Four years after quitting the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the bishop of Shanghai “admits” his faults on his blog, praising the organisation that controls the Church. We publish his article, almost in its entirety. Translation by AsiaNews.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Mgr Thaddeus Ma Daqin’s recent decision to support again the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) has caused quite a stir.
After spending four years under house arrest for leaving the organisation, the prelate now “admits” his faults in a post published last Sunday (12 June). In it, he reminds the whole Church of the importance of “loving the country, loving the Church”, the value of independence from "foreigners", and the CPCA’s contribution to evangelisation.
Much of the reaction in the media to the bishop’s new position is based however only on a few of his remarks, taken out of context. In another article we present the Chinese and Vatican reactions to his views.
Some people are angered by Mgr Ma’s “treason”; others are almost gleeful to count him among the “opportunistic bishops" in league with the Chinese government. It is worth noting that if one reads the bishop’s article from beginning to end, one does come across the idea of "independence" (in government and personnel), but also a call for unity with the Holy See and the universal Church. From this point of view, Mgr Ma’s demands do not go beyond a call for a certain degree of autonomy in the Church, something already in place in each national Bishops’ Conference.
In his letter to Chinese Catholics (2007), Benedict XVI said that “the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church” are “incompatible with Catholic doctrine” (n. 7). Still, “There would not be any particular difficulties with acceptance of the recognition granted by civil authorities on condition that this does not entail the denial of unrenounceable principles of faith and of ecclesiastical communion.”
Mgr Ma’s article gives the impression that he is skating on the very thin ice of obedience to the laws of the State. At the same time, he is very positive about the CPCA, too much perhaps, because he wants to guarantee as much religious freedom as possible for Shanghai Catholics.
Whatever the case, his isolation is troubling. Communication with him has proven impossible to the extent that it is impossible to know whether he is the actual author of the article attributed to him.
What follows is the (almost) entire article, the fifth of a series, that Mgr Thaddeus Ma Daqin wrote to mark 100 years since the birth of the bishop of Shanghai, Mgr Jin Luxian, who died in 2013. (Translation from Chinese by AsiaNews)
He taught us to take the path of loving the country and the Church:
- An article to mark the centenary of the birth of Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian (Part V)
Today's younger generation of Catholic clergy and faithful in Shanghai diocese can learn a great deal from Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian.
Certainly, I am afraid we cannot measure up with Bishop Jin’s brilliance and his life experience. This is a fact. However, his noble sentiments of loving the country and the religion, the spirit of dedication to the cause of God in his whole life, and the humility of a bishop are the attributes we can learn from him. In fact, not only can, but really must. Since a shepherd should be a good example for his flock, the flock will then follow the shepherd. Bishop Jin, in his speech delivered at the 40th anniversary of Shanghai Municipal Catholic Patriotic Association, carried an insightful thought. He said a bishop's mission is to set a direction for the Church and to be able to handle various complex relationships. His direction for the Church’s pastoral evangelization and services for the society was very clear; and his effort in the exploration of a road for the Chinese Catholic Church to adapt to the society and to keep pace with the age.
Now there is a trend of liberalist thinking, in society and also in the Church, that is, casually, subjectively and irresponsibly criticizing other people, the Church, the society and the state, even with words of insulting others’ personality. Some criticized for the sake of criticizing; and some carried an attitude of hostility. They might not know the facts well, but as long as they spotted certain terms deemed sensitive, they mindlessly and casually made speculations, and whipped from them. If he were a Communist, it only demonstrated an inadequacy of "criticism and self-criticism" and "pragmatic spirit"; if he were a Catholic, he did not listen to Jesus’ teaching: "Do not judge, lest you be judged."
Bishop Jin had never criticized others like that, even though he suffered from malicious accusations many times, as well as from name-calling and taunts. But he just laughed over it. His mind and his heart was open and noble, and that was worthy of our learning.
To straighten out the relationship between state laws and Church regulations, Bishop Jin had a clear perspective. Bishop Jin believed that the spirit of the Gospel is the nature and mission of the Church, to live out the teaching of love by the Lord Jesus Christ to his disciples, and to accomplish the pastoral evangelization the Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to them.
The Church needs no privileges and supreme positions in the world, as long as it can realize its evangelization mission, by means of a way acceptable to society and to this age. So, for Bishop Jin, the Church rules must be followed, but the laws of a country and of a place must be observed even more. In so doing, it is not for other things, but as we are Christians in society, we should be a model of following the law.
Historically, at the time of state-religion together, the Church and the political authority mingled, the Church gradually forgot its own sacred mission: it should not battle for supremacy in this world, but must follow Jesus Christ as a servant of people. It was not until the temporal political power treated the Church as a confrontational and hostile enemy, the Church then suffered bitter blows and attacks. The Church realized the wrong was not on the temporal authority, but on the Church itself because it forgot its own nature and mission. Instead, the Church fought for earthly power with the secular regime, and it had seen itself as a political power. This drifted farther and farther from the original idea of Jesus Christ when he established the Church.
Therefore, Bishop Jin always reminded us that if we came across confusions, we should look back at the history. The Church is not a book of stereotypes, but is full of dynamics and vitality. It can adapt to any society and culture because what it spreads is not a schema or a formula, but the spirit of the Gospel. Thus, in one place or in one country, to abide by the Constitution and laws is just and fair. Regarding certain individual provisions, if Church regulations are in conflict with state laws, one has to remember the Church is a servant and of serving others in nature. No servant can surpass its master. We cannot say with humility that we are servants, and at the same time have to fight for privileges. While Jesus Christ fully adhered to Jewish laws and custom, we, as his disciples, should follow suit.
On this point, I agreed to the view of keeping an active and healthy relationship with religions, as mentioned in the National Religious Work Meeting held recently. The Catholic Church in China must actively adapt to the contemporary times and the society; and properly handle its relationships with the Party and the government, with the society, with other religions, with religions in foreign countries, and with non-Catholics, and certainly including state law and Church canons. If such relationships are not handled properly, how can we carry out our evangelization work? We have thwarted and struggled hard.
The road that Bishop Jin took on was not so from the outset, where he did not comprehend or choose to follow it. He worked through detours. In fact, many people in the Church in China, including me, also made through the detours.
In 1950s, when the Catholic Church in China began to walk the road of independence, loving the country and the religion, Bishop Jin did not understand nor accept it. However, Bishop Jin, after episodes of hardships in life, he understood much of it. His life was transcended, as a result of it. The faithful often said God will bring the good out of the bad. It is a dialectical words of wisdom. When people go through bad experiences, they will understand some thoughts they have never realized before, and will appreciate the scenery they have not seen before. This is probably what a maturity of life means. This is not to say people with more life experiences will be deeper and reserved or smoother and slick. Yet, because of such experiences, one will discover a new horizon in his/her own life. No one will ever make no mistakes. More importantly, after being lost, one starts anew. Bishop Jin was like that. He encountered detours, and found his vocation and mission, a way of loving the country and the religion and a road to independence and self-administration Church. Then in the latter half of his life, he did his best to realize this call and mission, and dedicated himself fully to serving in life.
In his writings and daily conversations with us, Bishop Jin recounted his childhood many times, where foreigners were directing all the affairs of the Chinese Catholic Church. The greatest hope of the Chinese Catholics then was to having their own Church affairs managed by Chinese people, who in turn would know Chinese people best. Both Chinese and Westerners are human beings; and Chinese also have their national pride, self-reliance and a heart of independence.
Bishop Jin said, after the founding of the New China, our Catholic Church in China could then achieve this aspiration. The dioceses in China were headed by Chinese. So, we cherished the opportunity and adhered to the Church of independence and self-administration and did not allow foreigners to interfere in Church affairs in China.
When Bishop Jin was alive, he also took care of the principles of Church of independence and self-administration and maintaining relations with foreign Catholics with friendly exchanges. On the one hand, China’s religions are going on the road of independence and self-administration, echoing China’s new diplomatic strategy. The principle of independence and self-administration is the fundamental requirement stated in China’s Constitution. This is not only for Catholics, but also for other religions in China. They must count on the competence of Chinese people, and even in politics, economy and internal affairs. The country should not be interfered by foreign forces. On the other hand, we have to keep a friendly and equal status with other religions in the world in order to promote the progress of human civilization. Years ago, I accompanied Bishop Jin several times to visit Europe and the United States. In exchanging with local bishops and priests, Bishop Jin repeatedly stressed that the Catholic Church in China holds the same faith of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. So, to insist on independence and self-administration Church does not mean the Church in China believes in a God and studies a bible different to the Universal Church's.
Bishop Jin attended to the needs and supported the work of the Shanghai Municipal Catholic Patriotic Association. He considered members of the Patriotic Association at all levels were important in helping the Shanghai Diocese and its parishes. Therefore, he always concerned the material life and spiritual life of the Patriotic Association members, and encouraged them.
Bishop Jin cared for the integrated qualities of the Patriotic Association members. He always hoped the members would have a balanced development in political thought, in religious life, cultural qualities and on their spirit of dedication. After all, the Patriotic Association is a Catholic organization and should reflect the spirit of Catholic faith. Sometimes, he also pointed out the shortcomings of individual members of the Patriotic Association, such as weakness in the faith, like not going to Sunday Masses. In this way, he asked, how can such members represent the Patriotic Association to guide the faithful to walk the path of loving the country and the religion? The faithful would comment: this person was not keen in faith so we would not obey him. Of course, most of the members of the Shanghai Catholic Patriotic Association had a strong faith. Under Bishop Jin’s guidance, they often studiously and consciously corrected themselves and maintained a balance in their mission.
Bishop Jin's comments on the Shanghai Catholic Patriotic Association was best demonstrated in his speeches at all key meetings of the Patriotic Association. On every occasion, Bishop Jin represented the Shanghai Diocese to thank the Patriotic Association in Shanghai at all levels for their assistance in the diocese and in parishes. For instance, at the annual pilgrimage to Sheshan in May each year, the lay members of the Patriotic Association in the city had served quietly in various corners, enabling the pilgrimage activities to be safe and sound throughout the entire month of May. We may fail to see their work explicitly, but the peace and stable development of our Catholics in Shanghai and the hardworking service of the Patriotic Association in Shanghai are inseparable. In addition, on major Church affairs and liturgical activities, the Patriotic Association always took the lead to assist the most troublesome, most detailed and most demanding tasks and sessions to actively help the diocese and its parishes. Over the years, the diocese and parishes worked together with it in a tacit understanding and complement each other.
People of our generation are greatly influenced by Bishop Jin, not only in spiritual life, but also in the work of the Patriotic Association. Bishop Jin often encouraged and taught us priests to actively cooperate with the Patriotic Association in parishes, enabling the Patriotic Association to function in various Church matters.
Many of our priests, under Bishop's guidance and support, have joined the Patriotic Association. In the diocese and its parishes, they combined Church work in loving the country and the religion, and led the faithful to adapt to the times and the path of social development. I was also recommended by Bishop Jin to work at the Shanghai Municipal Catholic Patriotic Association earlier. It was in my second year after ordination, Bishop Jin recommended me to join the Patriotic Association in Shanghai. He made me to humble myself to learn from the older generation of the Patriotic Association. In those days, as a junior in front of the elder patriotic leaders, I was taken care of. They gave me opportunities to learn and practice. At that time, I did not understand the Patriotic Association very much. After some time, the Patriotic Association arranged me to give lectures to the younger members. As a common saying denotes: “Learning by teaching." Bishop Jin let me speak on his behalf at important meetings of the Patriotic Association. This was challenging, and it was a good training for me. I gradually understood the significance and meaning of the work of loving the country and the religion, with a deeper understanding on the nature, mission and functions of the Patriotic Association. It changed some of my views developed from my early days. It allowed me to personally experience our work of loving the country and the religion. It was a way to actively guide the faithful to adapt to the works of the socialist society; a task to encourage the faithful to commit themselves to the construction of the state and society. When we Catholics are more adapted and committed, we will then be more recognized and accepted in society, and our pastoral work of evangelization will be smoother as well. This is a benign mutual relationship, producing a benign effect. With increased contacts and in-depth work, many older leaders and members of the Patriotic Association and I have become very close friends, including the late laypeople Gu Meiqing, Tang Guozhi and Lu Weidu, as well as laypeople Li Wenzhi, Ma Bailing, Wang Liangquan and Ai Zujiong, from whom I learnt a great deal. They gave me much care and help. Though they have retired, I still received from them Christmas cards.
There was a period I had been tricked by the outside, and made mistakes by words and deeds against the Patriotic Association. Then, with reflections, I found that it was an extremely unwise move, and my conscience was not in peace, as I have hurt those for a long time selflessly cared for me and helped me. I also undermined Bishop Jin’s long term effort of building a good development situation of the Catholic Church in Shanghai. Such mistakes should have not occurred in the Catholic Church in Shanghai, upon which a tradition of loving the country and the religion developed. For this, my heart has been uneasy and I felt guilty about it. I hope to use concrete actions to remedy these mistakes. On Shanghai Catholic Patriotic Association, I always have deep feelings for it, and such feeling came both from the history of Patriotic Association toward the contributions by the Church’s healthy development. For instance, during the restoration of religious activities, the Patriotic Association helped implement the policies properly; after reform and opening of China, the Patriotic Association assisted the Church to carry out its pastoral work; and personally I participated in the works of the Patriotic Association, big and small. The Patriotic Association is not like what people from outside China said of it, as I believe most of the priests and faithful in Shanghai have recognized and trusted in the Patriotic Association.
The Patriotic Association amid the development of the Catholic Church in China always plays an irreplaceable role. Historically, the Patriotic Association has got countless facts proven of its importance to the Church. At this stage of development of our country, I think the position of the Patriotic Association in pastoral evangelization remains important. It can play a unique role in political guidance, Church affairs assistance and social services. For instance, the bridge role of the Patriotic Association helps priests and faithful in the process of implementation of national policies. As a seriously organized body of faithful, it can assist parishes and the diocese in Church affairs and other things, and as an extended arm of the Church, the Patriotic Association can bring forth charity work of the Church to many social fields to realize God’s love. In Shanghai, I always think Bishop Jin’s "chariot with four horses” (Shanghai Municipal Catholic Patriotic Association, Shanghai Municipal Catholic Administrative Commission, Shanghai Municipal Catholic Intellectuals Association, and Shanghai Diocese of Catholic Church), running parallel to one another, is the best way for the Shanghai Catholic diocese to do its pastoral evangelization work, because each organization has its unique value and function, and each works from a different perspective, uses different ways to supplement the insufficiency of Church work.
From my own experience, I should also learn another quality of Bishop Jin’s, that is the courage to amend his fault. Who has no fault? Although Bishop Jin encountered detours in his life at an early age, he learnt from his bitter experience and determined to change and search for his vocation and make glorious achievements in the rest of his life. In recent years, I have studied Bishop Jin’s articles over and over again, studied the missionary experience of Father Matteo Ricci and of other sages. Then I reflected on my own, keep amending my aggression, aspiration to false vanity, pomposity and other shortcomings. Over the past few years, I have not involved in any work and quietly precipitated the past. It gave me a time to have a thorough understanding of my past immaturity, incomplete and incorrect thoughts. People need to grow up, not only physically, but also in knowledge, vision, heart, thoughts and spirit. We, the young ones, have relied on the laurels of the older generation, who love the country and the religion, for a long time. We lack a profound understanding and conviction of the independence and self-administration Church, and need to comply with the nation’s Constitution and regulations, and to actively adapt to the socialist society. I remember the liturgy of resurrection, where we sang a verse of "Exultet (Proclamation of Easter): "Felix culpa" (happy fault). This verse seems to encourage us today and to give us hope. The encouragement is when we sinned and fell, we are ready to receive punishment; the hope is we will learn a lesson from the place where we fall down, and we should get up from there and start anew.