03/05/2018, 12.07
VATICAN-CHINA
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A healthy scepticism of China – Vatican agreement, does not mean we are 'against the Pope'

by Bernardo Cervellera

AsiaNews is neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. The "targeted" appointments of bishops have already lead to the suffocation of the Church today. The silence of the "optimists" in front of the destruction of churches, bans on young people practising their religion, the tight control on priests and faithful. A program – that need no agreements -: promote the unity of the Chinese Church; strengthen the formation of priests, religious, laity; support evangelization. The model of underground Protestant communities. The danger of considering the underground Catholic Church as something that can be just "discarded".

Rome (AsiaNews) – So what does AsiaNews really think about the agreement between China and the Vatican? Some readers have asked us this question in light of the issue that is inflaming many Catholics worldwide.

As you know, there are "the optimists", who see this agreement - which concerns the appointment of bishops and nothing else: not diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Holy See, as is sometimes believed – as if it were the panacea of all the problems of the Chinese Church by creating greater unity, greater evangelization, greater inculturation ("sinicization").

Then there are also "the pessimists", who see any negotiation with Beijing as pointless because its government is "unreliable" and because the price to pay for this agreement is the delivery of the Church into the hands of political power, which continues to exalt the "independence" of the Church and to demand Chinese bishops repeat this mantra at all times: "independence".

AsiaNews is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but sceptical. And we are sceptical because we are realists: because we look at the events that are taking place. Just as the Vatican and Chinese delegations are about to meet, churches are destroyed, young people are forbidden to go to church, a ban is issued on gathering even private homes for prayer ... if the Party program is one of suffocation and suppression of the faith (of all faith), even through "targeted" appointments of bishops, what motive could Beijing possibly have for this agreement if not that of the suffocation of the vitality of the Church in China? There are already alarming signs: priests cannot meet with young people; they cannot organise camps and retreats with them; bishops abroad and at home must follow the carbon copy that the Party passes to them; relations with other non-Chinese Catholics are controlled, filmed, and emptied of all meaning.

All these facts that we have mentioned - and which we document almost daily – find no space in the analysis, news, or articles of many China "experts" who are militants of  "the optimists". Theirs is a blind faith that increasingly appears a partisan, even ideological position.

Instead, we believe that faith is combined with reason and religious freedom, and any agreement that does not guarantee greater religious freedom is a bad agreement.

What is most saddening is that the "optimists", who view every Chinese government move through rose tinted glasses, also view the news and denunciations that we publish – based on verifiable data and facts – as "an obscure plot". What’s worse, they take the facts that we publish as a "conspiracy against Pope Francis", regardless of the fact that Pope Francis has always said that he also wants to debate with those who disagree with him. In our case, it is about really following Pope Francis, offering him more ideas and facts to base his decision on beyond what a blind and somewhat mendacious ideological position can offer.

In addition, so far our pope has always said that the Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics (of 2007) "is still valid". And in that letter it is said that the principle of "independence" of the Chinese Church "is not compatible with Catholic doctrine". This means that the bishops, even those recognized by the regime, if they want to be bishops of the Catholic Church, cannot proclaim it as an obvious thing, to be applauded. And again the same Letter  stated that one cannot “be pursued via an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities”; but it also stated that "compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church".

I wonder who is "against Pope Francis".

It is very well understood that a season of relaxation with the Chinese government could allow more Chinese students to come to Italy to study in the Pontifical and other universities; that millions of Chinese tourists could invade the Sistine Chapel; that even the IOR could find ways to collaborate with the second (and soon first) world economy. However, all this is a remote probability. Instead today, before us we have Christians, official and underground, who are subjected to checks and suffocation, as if their religion were a pest from which the Party must free itself (when it is precisely the one thing that China, a leader in material development, but without a soul, needs).

So what does AsiaNews' propose if not the "historic" agreement?

To wait. To wait for better times, accompanying the "historic" commitment to reconciliation between the two communities in China, strengthening formation and evangelization. The reconciliation between the official and underground communities was what John Paul II and Benedict XVI were asking for. And this without any agreement with the government: reconciliation and unity come from the intimate necessity of the Catholic faith. And the two Popes succeeded, bringing almost all the bishops to reconciliation with the pontiff and among each other. One thing that the "optimists" forget is that this unity which had reached almost 90%, has frightened the Patriotic Association (PA) to the point it resumed illicit ordinations, without papal mandate, obliging bishops in communion with the Pope to participate in such sacraments even using police force, creating confusion and scandal among the faithful, while the PA rubbed its hands over renewed divisions.

Another commitment that needs accompanying is the formation of priests, nuns and lay people. For this reason, AsiaNews finds ways of obtaining scholarships for young Chinese priests, it publishes the Pope's speeches in Chinese, publications that strengthen the spirituality of the faithful. Like us, many other Catholic communities in the world are engaged in this field.

Finally, evangelization. In this we should learn from the Protestants in China: without any agreement, Protestant Christians spread like wildfire. And especially the communities not recognized by the government are spreading: those boxed in the Three Self Movement (the official communities), are about 20 million, but there are 50 million and more that gather in domestic churches, open seminaries, circulate publications. And that even if they are persecuted, arrested and their churches razed to the ground. But evangelization does not stop and they have the comfort, the help and the support of many Protestant communities in the world. It would be truly wonderful if even Chinese Catholics had similar support from the universal Church.

Regarding the "historic" agreement, the "Vietnam model" is always referred to. But it must be remembered that the Hanoi government has come to terms with the Vatican not out of benevolence, but when it saw that some bishops threatened to create and raise domestic churches, underground seminaries and unofficial bishops.

My sadness is that in the China-Vatican dialogue the reasons and the life of the underground Church have never been considered or really heard: it is the great “discarded” against which our Pope Francis often inveighs. Yet it constitutes the majority of the faithful in China. Out of 12 million faithful, 5 million are indicated by state statistics in the official Church; the other 7 million belong to the underground Church, an abundance of  “discarded" before which one cannot remain silent.

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