Nanjing (AsiaNews) - Measure, in Chinese culture, refers to an instrument to determine the quantity, length, height, depth or distance of a thing; or can be a device of measuring things. Also, it can be a standard to determine and measure things; and even with estimates and speculation.
The title of this article is how the Church in China measures the heart, and not about its conscience (though pronounced alike). The article is to focus on the current hot issues of the Church in China, and share some of my views.
In November 2017, Bishop Han Zhihai of Lanzhou (Gansu), northwestern China, issued a few open letters in the Catholic Online, causing many arguments and criticisms. I also read a few written by those supporters of Bishop Han. When friends from outside China asked me about this matter and sought my opinions, I just smiled bitterly. I told a friend: “Bishop Han Zhihai should shut up.” My friend was curious about my answer, but I was silent. Not because I did not have an answer, but rather I fear my answer might surprise and confuse him. Many foreigners do not understand the real China. They will not understand why Bishop Han was so eager to explain and cleanse himself[i]. That is why I did not express my own view then.
China's Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) is always lively, bustling with noise and excitement. Joining the fun circle is not solely the privilege of Bishop Han, but also Cardinal Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, who praised China as the best implementer of Catholic Social Doctrine. Among the overflowing one-sided comments was an amusing one that described the cardinal as drinking too much Mass wine before presiding over it.
Such a lively crowd was naturally joined by an irritating Cardinal Joseph Zen. The emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, with his customary writing, disclosed that the Holy See and China have almost reached an accord on the issue of bishop appointment. The Holy See will pardon the illicit bishops in mainland China, and intends to let Bishop Zhuang Jianjian step aside to pave way for Bishop Huang Bingzhang to assume the position and to have Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong demote to clear the path for Bishop Zhan Silu. His article immediately stirred up storms.
The most rapid response came from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican’s Secretary of State. Without naming Cardinal Zen, Cardinal Parolin stressed in an interview: “Of course, many wounds are still open today. To treat them, we need to use the balm of mercy.”
Father Gan Baolu, a famous Catholic blogger in China, wrote about the suffering of Bishop Han Zhihai and his installation as open Church bishop for the sake of evangelization, and criticized Cardinal Zen as the main pusher of creating conflicts amid the normalization of China and the Vatican.
During the Spring Festival, many other events popped up, including Father Zhao Qinglong of Beijing’s interview by foreign media, in which he expressed his comments and views; Hong Kong Catholics initiated a signature campaign, urging bishops’ conferences worldwide to show concerns for the China-Vatican accord, and prayer gatherings for the purpose were organized.
UCA News published an interview with Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong, who said he could not accept the arrangement, but would obey Holy See’s decision and persuade those faithful who rejected the decision. Of course, in such a sparkling atmosphere, the so-called authoritative voice of the underground Church Bishop Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar could not be missed. Bishop Wei pointed out: “I want to ask friends outside mainland China, including those from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan: ‘Please do not speak on our behalf. Do not insist on speaking for us. It is not you who can represent the underground Church in China’.”
Chinese people’s Spring Festival is always a lively and spirited one. As the festival is full of joy and fun, it is of tiredness and obscure mood. Spring Festival is featured with migration, traffic pressure, labor shortage and empty cities. People reaching home would compare and showed off one’s achievements, got drunk, gambled and so on, but still they were immersed and enjoyed it. The same is true for the Church in China. The Church is developing, but it is filled with many obscure problems.
In Bishop Han Zhihai's open letter, he cited Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter for China as a basis of his installation into the open Church. I do not want to judge Bishop Han’s act, because Bishop Han acted just like most other bishops installed into the open Church. I did not find it particularly strange, because Bishop Han’s installation has already come a few years later than others. Bishop Han's installation into the open Church may be conducive to the rapid development of evangelization of Lanzhou diocese. Perhaps it may help glorify God and benefit people. But it will bring along double praises by the Chinese government and the Holy See. Anyway, Bishop Han was really unwilling to take off his bishop’s cloak embroidered with words of “loyalty” and "underground". Bishop Han’s open letter just wanted to express one thought: Not only have I put on a cloak of “loyalty” and “underground” bishop, but my shirt and shorts are also of “loyalty” and “underground”. However, Father Gan Baolu’s article titled “How the Church in China is beaten by rumors?” has completely stripped off Bishop Han’s underwear of “loyalty” and “underground” Church.
On the rhetoric of Cardinal Sanchez Sorondo praising China, I do not want to comment further. As Chinese, having a foreign guest coming all the way to China, we naturally uphold our ancestral traditional virtues to be hospitable. Like in the Spring Festival, we would offer our guests the best meals. In front of the guests, we would, regardless of the ways, intentionally or unintentionally exaggerate a little. Borrowing a web language, it is like “baizuo Shengmu”[ii] .
On Feb. 16, Lunar New Year Day, the Vatican Insider published an interview with Bishop Wei Jingyi, who said: “In the present situation in the People’s Republic of China, no one can claim they represent the underground Church. If someone has received a request from a particular community or individual person to send messages on their behalf, ought to openly state that they are speaking on behalf of that particular community or person, and no one else. I myself do not want to be ‘represented’ by someone else, without even being informed. And following what faith suggests to me, on my own behalf and on behalf of the community entrusted by God to my pastoral care, I want to solemnly declare: ‘regardless how the relations between China and the Vatican will go, we will wholly obey to the decision of the Pope and the Holy See, whatever it may be. And we will not question it either’.”
Reading the interviews of underground Bishop Guo and Bishop Wei, I do have a mixed feeling of joy and sadness. It is a joy to know the Church in China still has a bishop like Guo, a leader with great wisdom and humility; but sad to see Bishop Wei, who will spare no effort to be a big flicker. Bishop Guo, while interrogating by government officials, could comment on the conditions of China and the Church in China, giving a fair account, reasonable. Bishop Wei, coming from northeastern China, thinks he is the leader of the underground church in China. However, many Catholic netizens commented on his interview: So he (Wei) himself cannot represent the voice of the underground Church either, because our Church is universal and we have to speak according to the universal principle of the truth. My heart is saddened: our Chinese bishops, where is your measure of the heart?
What i wanted to discuss is a measure of the heart, not of conscience, over this matter. Bishops represent a kind of standard of the Church. Your measure is the yardstick of the Church, a standard of Church development. If your measure of the heart loses impartiality, then it means the instrument of measuring the yardstick of the Church will be changed accordingly. This not only affects the direction of Church development, as the Church is under your management; but also the salvation of the faithful’s souls. As Saint John Chrysostom said: “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.”
*Layman belonging to the Official Church, China east
[i] Msgr. Han, for years underground bishop, was recognized by the government a few months ago in an agreement between Beijing and the Vatican. It was then discovered that he had been seeking government recognition for years. Now, as an official bishop, he made some choices against the underground community. See. AsiaNews.it, 10/11/2017, "Mgr Han Zhihai goes from underground to official bishop of Lanzhou".
[ii] (baizuo: Mainland Chinese netizens have long been using the term baizuo, literally meaning "white left" to ridicule the liberal elites in the West. Shengmu: Blessed Mother, refers to kind-hearted people).