Official and underground Christians have celebrated the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, wanted by Benedict XVI. In a China marked by individualism and corruption, academics and scholars advise greater freedom for the economy and religious freedom for communities. Religions, viewed with suspicion by the leadership, are actually one of the few glues for a supportive and creative society. The strange silence of some commentators on persecution. The priority is formation of the clergy, the religious, the faithful. Now is the opportune time for the evangelization of China.
Rome (AsiaNews) – On May 24, several thousand faithful from Shanghai and the province took part in the pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan, on the day when the whole Church celebrates the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China. The idea of the Day of Prayer was launched by Benedict XVI in his 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics to strengthen their unity, along with the successor of Peter; to love and pray for persecutors; to receive from the Churches around the entire world "fraternal solidarity and solicitude", along with "perseverance" in their witness.
From 2008 onwards, out of a fear of seeing too many people gathered together by the same faith, the government has banned all Chinese dioceses, with the exception of Shanghai, to make the pilgrimage on May 24, the feast day of Mary, venerated as “Help of Christians".
Last year I was in Sheshan on the very day of the feast, and I was deeply moved to see the thousands of faithful climb on their knees (similar to the Holy Steps) the steps that lead to the sanctuary, to take part in Mass in an overflowing Church, without any space to move around, in an atmosphere of worship and joyful fraternity. And there was no difference between "official" and "underground” Catholics, a division created primarily by the government which is why it has also received criticism from the UN.
These witnesses of faith and love are the very ones the Chinese police controls, stops, chokes and often detains and kills, like Fr. Wei Heping, found "having committed suicide" in Taiyuan in November. The pilgrimage of the diocese of Shanghai to Sheshan, on May 11 last recalled that the diocese is without a bishop: the ceremonies were led by several priests, but no pastor. The only bishop in this diocese, after the death of Msgr. Aloysius Jin Luxian (official) and Msgr. Joseph Fan Zhongliang (underground), is the young Msgr. Thaddeus Ma Daqin. But he has been held under house arrest since 2012, the day of his episcopal ordination, for the mere reason that he had decided and publically announced his intention to step down from the Patriotic Association, in order to dedicate himself and his time to the evangelization and care of his people.
Pope Francis - while not citing the cases of persecution – in his reflection of May 22 last recalling the Day of Prayer, said that Christians, together with members of other faiths, can "become a concrete sign of love and reconciliation," promoting "an authentic culture of encounter and harmony of society".
The point is that the Chinese government still sees Christianity (and all religion) as something negative, to be controlled, and does not realize that the religious dimension is part of the human experience and indeed, garners a morality within society that ideology cannot guarantee. For years academics from the Academy of Social Sciences have been emphasizing the importance of religion as a social glue in a China that is becoming increasingly individualistic and corrupt. These include the academic Liu Peng, who, in a series of articles published by AsiaNews, outlines the fragility with which the Chinese state is woven and how its Marxist ideology is not shared by the majority of the population. According to Liu Peng, to prevent the collapse of the country, the rulers have to pay attention to the beliefs and religions of their subjects.
Scholars of this great country suggest the government allow to individuals more creativity to enable society and the economy to grow, if you do not want to stifle the development achieved in recent decades. In his book published last March, "China’s Future”, David Shambaugh, who has been a great observer of China for 40 years and is a personal friend of several of the Communist Party leaders, suggests that if the current leadership wants to maintain the current level of development in the country it must be more open to individual freedom and also religious freedom. Without this step, China is likely to slip into a suffocating totalitarianism that undermines economic performance and brings social tensions until breaking point.
It is precisely this situation of dominant materialism, of being treated as an object to be controlled that is pushing many Chinese to embrace a faith, especially Christianity. And Christians in China act exactly as Pope Francis is asking them to, becoming "a concrete sign of love and reconciliation," and promoting "an authentic culture of encounter and harmony of society." Christians in many dioceses are known because they help the poor internal migrants, they live not for profit alone, caring for the forgotten elderly. They could be even more effective if there were fewer controls and less obstacles.
Asking for an end to t persecution and greater guarantees for religious freedom is for the good - also economic - of China, to render Chinese society more solid and capable of solidarity.
Unfortunately among many of our own commentators there is a growing tendency to remain silent on the persecution in favor of promoting the development of China and diplomatic relations with the Vatican. However, while it is understandable that a Pope and his Secretary of State remain silent on the persecution, to leave open a channel of communication with the Chinese government, it is for so many coryphaei who have decided to play "the violin on the roof", hiding the dramas in the house below. Not to mention the fact that it is not the task of Christians to "work for relations between China and the Vatican": this is the work of diplomats; ours is to evangelize China. A few days ago a Beijing priest said to me: "Help us to evangelize China; help us to form priests, religious and lay people: this is our priority".
As Msgr. Stephen Lee, the new bishop of Macao, put it: "Now is the right time for evangelization in China”. This is the task of the Chinese and all Christians.