05/24/2017, 23.05
VATICAN – CHINA
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AsiaNews Symposium: The Church in China between witness and the danger of corruption

"The Holy See is working for the Church in China," said Card Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, in his greetings at the AsiaNews symposium ‘China: The Cross is Red’. For Mgr Savio Hon, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, “gray pragmatism” is "a great threat to faith" since it is based on the principle that “what works is true”.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – "The Holy See is working for the Church in China," said Card Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, in his greetings at the AsiaNews symposium "China: The Cross is Red," held at the Pontifical Urbaniana University on the day the universal Church has dedicated to the Chinese Church.

At the opening, AsiaNews editor Fr Bernardo Cervellera said that Mgr Peter Shao Zhumin, underground bishop of Wenzhou (Zhejiang, holds a special place in the local Church. At present, he is in the hands of the police. This underscores how we should not forget the current persecution of the Chinese Catholic Church even though the ostensibly stronger "optimist party" sees a positive outcome to talks between the Holy See and the Chinese government over episcopal appointments. This is made that more evident by the martyrs who shed their blood for evangelisation, not to mention the suffering of underground Catholics.

After ten years, Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to the Chinese Catholics, which Pope Francis cited recently, is still relevant. In it, the pope emeritus said, “Let China rest assured that the Catholic Church sincerely proposes to offer, once again, humble and disinterested service in the areas of her competence, for the good of Chinese Catholics and for the good of all the inhabitants of the country.” Speaking to underground and official Catholics, the letter reiterated “dozens of times the urgency of a dialogue full of love, of desire for reconciliation and mutual forgiveness."

During the meeting, some participants, including Mgr Savio Hon, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, spoke of the "military" control imposed on religious activities, of CCTV cameras on every church to monitor priests and worshippers, clergymen taken into custody, subject to house arrest, and detention, plus "internal" problems to the Church, including "serious moral scandals involving superiors" and "backstabbing brothers."

Others also mentioned the "dual identity" of some bishops (endorsed by the Holy See but with important roles in the Patriotic Association), as well as the longstanding issue of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican. If for the “optimist party,” these have been just around the corner for many yeas; for others, it is hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel or even their necessity to solve the problems of the Chinese Church.

In his address, Richard Madsen, sociologist of religion of the University of San Diego (California), noted that, in spite of official figures, tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of Chinese adhere to some form of faith.  This is why religious sentiments have survived in China, despite the vigorous attempts to eradicate them. In his view, “Marxist ideology was too thin to substitute for the multiple dimensions of Chinese culture”. Marxism and capitalist consumerism tried to flatten such "multidimensionality" but failed.

Catholicism, like other forms of Christianity is "an integral part of Chinese social ecology," Madsen adde. And Xi Jinping’s plan for “great renaissance of the Chinese people [. . .] under a common culture” is but “a blend of homogenized traditional values and Marxist ideology, under the control of a unitary state.”  Despite the Communist leader’s goal of sinicising Christianity, such a “one-dimensional, rigidly unified culture [. . .] would only superficially cover the dynamic diversity of multi-dimensional Chinese lives.”

Mgr Savio Hon Tai Fai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, stressed in his presentation the tragedy of intra-Catholic divisions caused by the state, as illustrated by the stories of some priests. For example, when asked to submit to an unlawful bishop one clergyman said, “I never stop loving my homeland and I respect those who rule us, but I love God first of all and in matters of faith I obey the pope. The Church cannot be led by organisations that embrace principles that are incompatible with its doctrine.”

Nevertheless, for Mgr Hon, one great threat to the faith is "gray pragmatism", i.e. the idea that "what works is true". The issue, he noted is a question that Pope Francis holds dear. The good shepherd the Church needs is the one who gives his life for his flock. A shepherd does not let himself be distracted by the affairs of the world. "No room should be given to gray pragmatism or careerism," Mgr Hon insisted.

The symposium served as the venue for Fr Gianni Criveller to present Sfide passate e presenti. Missionari del Pime in Cina (Past and present challenges. PIME missionaries in China) by Father Sergio Ticozzi. Fr Criveller has studied the Sinic world for decades, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and the People's Republic of China. He teaches Theology of mission at Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy in Hong Kong.

Fr Ticozzi’s book covers 150 years of exciting and complex yet painful history involving 263 missionaries from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions (PIME) on mainland China. What struck Fr Criveller is the mission’s "awesome" start. In just 12 years, the number of faithful doubled, schools were founded, seminaries were open and the poor were helped. As is often the case in the history of the Church, charity opened the door to evangelisation. This history continued even after the Communist's takeover and the expulsion of missionaries.

“There is continuity in the life of the 'Christianities' founded by PIME, which must not be underestimated or concealed,” he said. The fate of Chinese priests and believers was even more painful than that of missionaries. Their detention and their humiliation has lasted longer and has been more devastating." Their suffering is described as "an obvious thing," a path to "let the facts speak for themselves". Thus, contrary to what some saw as the "end of religions and Catholicism in China," Catholic communities had resisted and were growing again. 

Criveller himself cited at least 20 members of PIME who devoted themselves to the study of the situation, and mentioned the contacts with the "old missions, not in order to go back to the past, but to support instead brothers and sisters in their effort to rise” again.

The symposium ended with a prayer that the number of those who want to evangelise in China may grow.

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