05/24/2017, 17.52
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AsiaNews Symposium: the problems and Challenges of the Church in China in the stories of priests

Many unresolved issues exist in today's Chinese Church. In their account, read by an actor because Beijing prevented them from attending the symposium, four priests talked about their activities under military control, of being taken into custody, placed under house-arrest, detained, forced to face internal scandals and attacks, as well as ‘dual identity’ bishops, confused relations between China and the Vatican, not to mention a lack of religious freedom.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The symposium ‘China: The Cross is Red’ by AsiaNews held this afternoon at the Pontifical Urbaniana University heard about the many problems priests face in China. These include “military" control of religious activities, CCTV cameras on each church to monitor priests and worshippers, detentions, house-arrests, and imprisonment; plus "internal" problems to the Church, including "grave moral scandals involving superiors" and "vicious attacks among brothers". They also include the "dual identity" of some bishops (endorsed by the Holy See but with leadership roles within the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association), and the longstanding issue of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican.

Davide Ferrari, a 34-year-old actor, director and author from Pavia read the stories provided by four clergymen, three underground priests from central, northern, and eastern China and one official priest from southern China. AsiaNews had invited them to the symposium but Chinese authorities did not grant them the required visas, so they could not leave. However, they still wanted their voice to be heard at the symposium, and so sent a written account of their pastoral experience.

According to one priest from central China, the situation of the local Catholic Church is "increasingly complicated and difficult". Notwithstanding some differences between dioceses, they "are all in the same boat, which is under the control of the Chinese government." Political authorities, he noted, exhibit “two contradictory aspects: [they] want to show the world that there is freedom and democracy in China" but "control those anybody they want." The “Catholic Church in China is thus treated as an object and is blocked, controlled, and spied upon on by those in power."

Before any religious activity, the clergyman goes on to say, military patrols join police, and priests and bishops are questioned. "If the religious activity is important and solemn, like an episcopal ordination, they block roads and streets, even residential quarters." There are "cameras on every church," and government officials "caught going to church" are penalised in terms of their career. "All dioceses in China find themselves in this condition." There are also prelates and priests "under the thumb of the Chinese government" who "always say what Communist authorities like to hear.  Some bishops and priests also indulge in the materialistic world."

A priest in the North spoke about "external and internal" suffering. The former involves "being taken into custody, house arrest, detention, indoctrination".  The latter refers to the inner sufferings "caused by the internal situation of the Church, i.e. by the grave moral scandals involving superiors and backstabbing among brothers." In the 1990s, "we had a strong desire for faith" whereas now our efforts are dedicated, not just to rebuilding the Christian community, but also to facing off political intrusions. Whilst experienced difficulties hint at an agreement and a diplomatic recognition between China and the Vatican, "it is too naïve and childish" to think that that is possible since Beijing "has always meant religion to be 'Chinese’.”

The priest in eastern China, a member of an underground community, mentioned the "dual identity" of some bishops (i.e. having Holy See approval but also tasks within the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association). "Catholics who really care about the relationship with the Holy Father and who love the Church do not like bishops with a dual identity,” he explained. [...] In some places, bishops were bravely faithful at the beginning, but subsequently abandoned their principles, accepted compromises, joined the Patriotic Association, co-celebrated Mass with illegitimate bishops." The crucial point, he said, is that "there is no real religious freedom in the country" and the relationship between representatives of the underground Church and those of the official Church remains ambiguous.

Finally, a priest in southern China, from the official Church, described a "sense of alienation" with respect to the underground community. Although priests do not "play any official role [...] we have to put up with charges of ‘treason’ and ‘disloyalty’." He cited as an example "Mgr Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who had contacts with the Patriotic Association for many years, but resigned on 7 July 2012 when he was ordained bishop. With his public ‘coming out’, Mgr Ma Daqin showed his faith. The Chinese need faith, and the true light," the priest said.

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