The 10th anniversary of the Letter from Benedict XVI to the Church in China. The weakness of some bishops
by Fr Peter

The Letter expresses "the love of the Holy Father for our Church". The "tragedy" for the Church in China: bishops who become "state officials", "do not listen to the Letter" and are afraid of "giving their life to the flock". But there are "bishops and priests [who] safeguard the true faith of the Catholic Church." Profound thanks to the universal Church.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - On the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, wanted by Benedict XVI and backed by Pope Francis, there have been many comments about the emeritus Pope's Letter to Chinese Catholics. The document, published on June 30, 2007, carries the official date of Pentecost 2007, May 27.

Comments - like the one we publish below, by a priest of the official church in the north of the country - express appreciation for the pontiff’s paternal affection, his theological precision and relevance even 10 years on. At the same time these considerations also point to the weakness of the Church's life in China: some bishops have become "state officials" and have stopped giving their life to the flock. In particular their adherence to the Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops, both defined by Benedict XVI as "incompatible with Catholic doctrine." On the other hand, the author of the comment recalls the many "witnesses" who remain faithful to Benedict XVI's indications also at risk of imprisonment, indoctrination, and detention. Curiously, all the bishops mentioned are part of the unofficial Church.

The great Pope Benedict XVI published a pastoral letter to the Catholic Church in China on 30 June 2007 of historical value. The Letter indicates not only the direction for the Church in China, but it also describes, from a theological point of view, the special nature of the Catholic Church and at the same time, it expresses the concern of the Supreme Authority for the Chinese Church. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: " As universal Pastor of the Church, I wish to manifest sincere gratitude to the Lord for the deeply-felt witness of faithfulness offered by the Chinese Catholic community in truly difficult circumstances. At the same time, I sense the urgent need, as my deep and compelling duty and as an expression of my paternal love, to confirm the faith of Chinese Catholics and favour their unity with the means proper to the Church. I am also following with particular interest the events of the entire Chinese People, whom I regard with sincere admiration and sentiments of friendship, to the point where I express the hope "that concrete forms of communication and cooperation between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China may soon be established"(No. 4).

These words of Pope Benedict XVI's letter, help us Catholics who live in China feel the Holy Father's love for our Church.

Because of the special cultural context of China, and above all because of the weight of the legacy that its history has transmitted, our Church in China lives under political influence, and maintaining communion with the universal Church becomes problematic. Therefore, Pope Benedict XVI clearly explains: " As far as relations between the political community and the Church in China are concerned, it is worth calling to mind the enlightening teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which states: "The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor is she tied to any political system. She is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person"(ibidem). Unfortunately, however, in the concrete circumstances, the Catholic Patriotic Association and the Episcopal Conference of Chinese Catholic Bishops are sustained and controlled by the government, and they play an embarrassing role. Bishops who accept government orders as matters of faith, become state officials, do not listen to the letter expressing the Holy Father's concern for the Church in China and avoid talking about it: this is the real tragedy of the Church in China. Jesus teaches us: "The shepherd must lay down his life for his flock". But today's bishops do not even have the courage to proclaim the Letter of the Holy Father. So how can they become pastors as Christ wants them?

The Holy Father in the Letter emphasizes in a special way: "Catholic doctrine teaches that the Bishop is the visible source and foundation of unity in the particular Church entrusted to his pastoral ministry . But in every particular Church, in order that she may be fully Church, there must be present the supreme authority of the Church, that is to say, the episcopal College together with its Head, the Roman Pontiff, and never apart from him. Therefore the ministry of the Successor of Peter belongs to the essence of every particular Church "from within". Moreover, the communion of all the particular Churches in the one Catholic Church, and hence the ordered hierarchical communion of all the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, with the Successor of Peter, are a guarantee of the unity of the faith and life of all Catholics. It is therefore indispensable, for the unity of the Church in individual nations, that every Bishop should be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the Pope. "(No. 5).

The clear explanation and the teaching of the Holy Father are not a new theory, but they are the dogma of the Catholic Church. This fundamental doctrine of the Catholic Church is attacked and challenged. The bishops, in view of their own personal advantages, for fear of being held and attacked because of their loyalty to the Orthodox doctrine of the Church, continue to maintain so-called "principles of autonomy and independence". There is a void between the spirit of Pope Benedict XVI's Letter and its practical implementation.

Napoleon once said, "If the Lord does not to destroy His Church, no one else can!" What is consoling and encouraging is the fact that some bishops and priests safeguard the true faith of the Catholic Church. Although they run the risk and the danger of 'being put to jail', or 'disappearing' or being subjected to 'indoctrination', they are the heroes of the Church, who deserve admiration and respect: such as, for example, the bishops Shi Enxiang, Su Zhimin, Cui Tai, Shao Zhumin, Guo Xijin, etc. They have not transgressed the Constitution of the country, they have done nothing but remain faithful to their Catholic faith. But that group of opportunistic bishops who adapted to the demands of the government have billed these faithful bishops as 'closed brains', 'hard heads’. Although the Church is facing so many difficulties, what is comforting today is that the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Archbishop Hon Tai-Fai, during the recent symposium organized by AsiaNews agency clearly indicated that 'we must eliminate Gray pragmatism'. He also pointed out that "in the most difficult times, wonderful examples of witness and even martyrdom always appear." Pope Benedict XVVI in the Letter stated: " Keep in mind, moreover, that your path of reconciliation is supported by the example and the prayer of so many "witnesses of the faith" who have suffered and have forgiven, offering their lives for the future of the Catholic Church in China. Their very existence represents a permanent blessing for you in the presence of our Heavenly Father, and their memory will not fail to produce abundant fruit."(No. 6).

From the contents of the Letter we see that the Holy Father understands the difficulties of the Church in China: he says: " Notwithstanding many grave difficulties, the Catholic Church in China, by a particular grace of the Holy Spirit, has never been deprived of the ministry of legitimate Pastors who have preserved the apostolic succession intact. We must thank the Lord for this constant presence, not without suffering, of Bishops who have received episcopal ordination in conformity with Catholic tradition, that is to say, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and at the hands of validly and legitimately ordained Bishops in observance of the rite of the Catholic Church. "(n. 8).

From the Holy Father's Letter, we can see his strong commitment to the Church in China and also understand his expectations. For these expectations we have to pray. Pope Benedict specifically set May 24, each year, as the Day of Prayer for the Church in China: this initiative urges the profound gratitude of Chinese Catholics to the whole Church for its interest in the faithful of China. In it, we must remember what Pope Benedict has entrusted to us and what he expects from us and do our best to not frustrate the plans of this elderly father for the future of the Catholic Church in China.