Christmas Masses shut down by police, celebrations held in houses, crowded by hundreds of faithful, the non-recognition of the government, which forces faithful to join the Patriotic Association. The daily life of an unofficial priest and his flock of faith. Fears that the China-Vatican dialogue will endorse membership in this association for everyone.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - A story about the difficulties and persecutions experienced by the underground community, not recognized by the Chinese government; the concerns on China-Vatican dialogue and an inability to join the Patriotic Association (PA), which wants to build a national and independent Church. This is what an underground priest from central China reveals in this letter to a friend.
The question of belonging or not to the Patriotic Association is a burning issue: it is whatì will eventually qualify belonging to the underground community or the official one. It must be said that for some time now a campaign has been carried out by the government to register and absorb - even through ruses – underground priests into the association. In rumors surrounding dialogue between China and the Holy See it seems that this problem is not addressed, although the Letter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics claimed that the PA is "incompatible with Catholic doctrine". Pope Francis reaffirmed the value of Benedict XVI’s Letter. The official Church tends to view membership of the PA as a "lesser evil" compared to the criminalization of all unregistered religious activity.
Dear sister in the Lord, thank you for your letter!
This is my general response to some of the questions that you have at heart.
1. The situation of our parish
At present I work in an area that has about 6 thousand faithful. Among them 3 thousand belong to the official Church, about 1,500 to non-official Church, another 1,500 practice religious life little.
The parish where I work is an unofficial one; there is no church, not even a space that you could call public place of prayer. Our underground church only has 10 meeting points. They are all houses of the faithful, or provisional locations. Some larger ones can contain 200 or 300 people, others only a few hundred. Usually for Sunday Mass must be split into three or four points, otherwise all the faithful cannot take part in Mass.
Due to the constant control of the government on the Church, we could not get the permission for a registered location for religious activities. There are two reasons: the first is that the religious authority of the government [the State Administration for Religious Affairs, SARA- ed] does not recognize our identity as priests, so we cannot represent the ecclesial community as a legitimate religious personnel and make the request to the authority concerned. The second is that the official Church has five churches in my area: one more reason why SARA will not consent to a place for the religious activities for the underground Church.
Their method is to always ask the priest (underground) to make public his identity by registering with SARA. But at the same time you are obliged to join the Patriotic Association. So for the priest and the faithful of the underground Church there is no way out. This is why the practice of the life of faith and sacraments of the faithful, which are a priest’s routine pastoral care have become very difficult.
In these conditions, even when we celebrate a feast or solemnity of great importance, and have identified a relatively large place, SARA and the government police (Gong An) order us to shut it down, or to cancel the activities with the excuse that we would be carrying out "religious activities in a unregistered location" or holding an "illegal mass gathering", or under the guise of "security." Sometimes they use threats, harassment, intimidation, etc. Other times they ban us and confiscate the goods of the Church. These cases happen very often, especially - and this is particularly serious - at Christmas and at Easter.
Once, the faithful of our parish spent five months preparing for Christmas, finding a great place and decorating it with care. But on the afternoon of December 24, suddenly a group of people arrived: police (Gong An), members of the religious affairs bureau ... and they began to investigate those in charge taking photos of the place, ordering us thereon to take away everything at once: altar, pews, etc. They banned Mass on Christmas Eve. So, that year they prevented us from celebrating Christmas and we could not have even a normal liturgy.
In the underground church that I serve, we have so many important church holidays: Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. Most of the time we spend these in an extreme dread and fear. Just one example: when a gathering exceeds 500 people, we have to post some believers outside of the place of the liturgy to monitor and control from a distance against "visits" from police. Many Christmases, I was ready to risk being arrested by police. In this case it is better not to carry important documents to avoid damaging other priests if they detained me and took me away.
Despite these problems, obstacles, persecutions, the priests and the faithful of the Church are always faithful to God, to Christ, to the Church and to the Pope.
The faithful of the area want their priests who celebrate their Masses to be faithful [undergound] to the Church. And this despite the long waits before the start of the Mass on the cold night of Christmas Eve; although they must participate in the liturgy in a precarious and crowded place ..., nothing prevents their love of God! When they sing the vigil hymns, kissing the baby Jesus offered by the hands of the priest, kneel before the manger to adore and take communion at the hands of the priest, they are truly united with the universal Church! Their great devotion encourages me more and more to put myself in the service of the sheep, to shed blood for them, to be ready to sacrifice my life for the sheep.
Every Christmas Eve, the night of Peace, there is often no peace for us, but we suffer for a reason and so we have a peace and inner joy.
2. Some doubts and concerns on the agreement between China and the Vatican
First, does the content of the agreement exist or not? Is the question of the religious persecution in China part of these discussions or not?
Secondly, it seems, part of the agreement speaks of the Pope forgiving the illegitimate bishops, so that all the official bishops are in communion with the Pope. But we ask, should the Vatican not ask official bishops to abandon the Patriotic Association?
Thirdly, when it relates to the (so-called) Chinese bishops' conference: will this organization led by Beijing continue to exist or not?
If China and the Vatican were to sign the agreement on the appointment of bishops, we are faced with two major problems:
a) if we were to follow the spirit of the agreement, we should belong to and obey the bishops of the official Church. But if the Patriotic Association, the Office of Religious Affairs of the Government still exist they will demand that priests who belong to the official bishops to join the Patriotic Association, supporting the independence, self-management and autonomy of the Church. And what should we do?
b) If we do not belong to the official bishops, then are we not doubly illegitimate?
We would be illegitimate under Church law, given that priests cannot exist without reference (belonging) to the bishop.
We would be illegitimate from the government's point of view, [because] we refuse to allow it to control us, and that's because we refuse to join the Patriotic Association and receive their membership card (with the government's records). In this way we become what these new religious regulations define as "unlawful Church personnel”.
Faced with this embarrassing situation, we ask ourselves: what should we do? Do we really just need to all go home?
Card. Zen said: "God does not want a successful prophet, but a faithful prophet"!
Father Zhang Bo Da, a persecuted priest, who died in the diocese of Shanghai said: "I prefer to be a believer who has a Pope, than a bishop without a Pope"!
Those who preceded us, gave us the example to follow. With the help of the Lord we will go forward, continuing to walk the road of fidelity to Christ, to the Church, to the Pope.
Chinese martyrs, pray for the Church in China!
Celestial Queen of China, pray for the Church in China!
Our Lady of Sheshan, help of Christians, pray for the Church in China!