11/13/2018, 00.00
VATICAN-CHINA
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Shame over Msgr. Shao Zhumin, the bishop kidnapped by police

by Bernardo Cervellera

The silence of so many commentators dictated by knockback: The belief that the Sino-Vatican agreement would have ensured smooth waters.  Persecution takes place in many regions of the country and with the endorsement of central power. Underground Catholics bitterly suspect that the Vatican has abandoned them. The "papolatry" complex: instead of attending to the truth, things are measured on the basis of whether they are "for or against Francis". The "marketolatry" complex: trade with China is worth all the silences. But, as the Pope says, religious freedom is "a fundamental human right, a bulwark against totalitarian demands".

Rome (AsiaNews) - We had expected it. The news of the umpteenth arrest - the fifth in two years - of Msgr. Peter Shao Zhumin, bishop of Wenzhou, has passed in silence. With the exception of some Spanish and English media, and some rare Italian websites besides AsiaNews, it seems that dragging a bishop, well known in China as a courageous and honorable man, to submit him to dozens of days of indoctrination as in the times of the Cultural Revolution, it is not a news worthy of note, or rather is a nuisance, which is worth silencing.

I wonder what would happen if a good Italian bishop, for example the kindly Msgr. Matteo Zuppi from Bologna, were kidnapped by a group of Islamic fundamentalists to indoctrinate him and make him Muslim, of course: without a hair on his head being touched, as is the case for Msgr. Shao. I imagine that it would make global headlines. In the case of the bishop of Wenzhou it is not a question of Islamic fundamentalists, but of "independence" fundamentalists: they want to convince the bishop that membership of the Patriotic Association, which wants to build a Church that is "independent" from the Holy See, is good for him, for the Church and for the world.

From the point of view of dogma, what Benedict XVI said in the Letter to Chinese Catholics is still true: the status of the PA is "incompatible with Catholic doctrine". And several times in the past, Pope Francis has stated that Benedict XVI’s Letter "is still valid".

Thus membership of the PA limits the life of a bishop: Surveillance 24 hours a day; checks and requests for permits for pastoral visits and for meeting guests; requisition for weeks and months to participate in indoctrination conventions on the goodness of Beijing's religious policy.

The shame of the media

I believe that the media silence - especially the Catholic media - is above all born from shame. A few months ago, on September 22nd, their acclaim of the agreement between China and the Holy See had been such it gave the impression that from now on everything would be downhill. Instead, the fact that the problem of persecution persists in the Church in China is such a heavy knockback that - and it is understandable - it is difficult to confess. If we then add the closed and sealed churches, the destroyed crosses, the domes razed to the ground, the demolished sanctuaries, the police enforced ban on  minors under 18 years attending church or catechism, we then realize that the agreement on the appointment of bishops - as we have said in the past - is good because it avoids the rise of schismatic bishops, but leaves intact a situation in which the PA and the United Front believe themselves to be the true leaders of the Catholic Church in China (and not the Pope). This is confirmed by the lessons that the two bodies are carrying out in many regions of China, in which priests and bishops reiterate that "despite the Sino-Vatican agreement", the Church must continue to be "independent" (from the Pope and the Holy See).

Unfortunately, the unpublished and secret "provisional" agreement gives China free reign to interpretation. The United Front and the PA force priests and bishops to join the "independent" Church, saying that "the Pope agrees with us", so much so that several underground Catholics bitterly suspect that the Vatican has abandoned them in the blizzard.

Some of the so-called "experts" on China, minimalize the facts of persecution, saying that it only happens in "a few places". In reality there are persecutions in many regions: Hebei, Henan, Zhejiang, Shanxi, Guizhou, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Hubei, ... And certainly there will be other places where the news has failed to come to light.

Another "reduction" is to say that these things happen in the peripheries, but in the center, in Beijing, we really want the agreement to work. The fact remains that since last October, after the Communist Party Congress, the United Front and the PA are under the direct control of the Party: it is virtually impossible that the center (Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Party) does not know what is happening in the peripheries, with such striking cases that even shake the international community.

The papolatry complex

In addition to shame, I believe that there are two other reasons push to silence.

The first is a kind of "papolatry complex": since Pope Francis is a supporter of the agreement with China and a courageous advocate of dialogue with Chinese culture, it seems that highlighting the persecutions is an offense to the Pontiff. Apart from the fact that Pope Francis has always emphasized that he loves sincerity and not adulation, he has always said that dialogue is between two identities, not silencing your own identity  and if your identity is made of martyrs, this cannot be hidden.

It is true of late that within the Church, whatever the subject of discussion maybe,  the unspoken question has become "are you for or against Francis?". This derives from the fact that at present, groups of conservatives and progressives all over the world are engaged in a tug of war to overthrow or elevate the person of Francis to safeguard their own particular ecclesial vision. And once, thanks to this ideological vision, even AsiaNews was suspected of being "against Pope Francis". To seek the truth and the good for the Church in China does not, in my opinion, equate to a conspiracy against the pontiff, to whom we are bound as our head of the Church and the visible sign of our unity. Those who proclaim themselves defenders of the Pope yet remain silent in the face of the persecution of Christians in China, risk no love for either Francis, or the Church, but only their ideological project for the future Church, while allowing today's one to be suffocated.

The marketolatry

The second reason could mainly concern the so-called "secular" media, for a "marketolatry" complex, the divinization of the Chinese market. It is silent on persecution and arrests because they are deemed "insignificant" compared to trade war between China and the US and the future of the superpower of the Middle Empire. The media and bookstores are full of articles and books that hail Beijing, or demean it, depending on whether you are destined for China or the United States. In this case, the religious freedom of a country is not understood as a sign of its "goodness".  Last November 5, meeting the World Congress of Mountain Jews, Pope Francis said that "religious freedom is a supreme good to protect, a fundamental human right, a bulwark against the totalitarian demands". Therefore, those who really want freedom of trade in China should primarily defend religious freedom. Large Chinese entrepreneurs who, even if they want to trade and invest abroad, must obey the central government restrictions, know something of this. Bishop Shao Zhumin is therefore not "insignificant", but the sign of how China is evolving.

One last point is worth mentioning: Msgr. Shao Zhumin is the bishop of a now unified Church, where there is no longer the division between official and underground Catholics, exactly what Pope Francis hoped for in his Message to Chinese Catholics and the world, published a few days after the agreement. Still, the PA, in addition to kidnapping the bishop, has in these days banned "official" priests from going to pay homage to the tombs of "underground" priests and bishops. And this is the sign that the division in the Chinese Church is not intended primarily by Catholics, but by the Party. This policy - which has lasted for 60 years - does not seem in favor of the evangelization of China, but - as mentioned so many times in the past by the same PA - is a step towards the suppression of all Christians.

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