10/20/2023, 21.59
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Bishop Shen Bin speaks about Shanghai, the Church in China and the universal Church

In a long interview with the diocesan magazine, the bishop of Shanghai – at the centre of the "case" settled by Pope Francis in July – tells his story and outlines plans for his ministry. He emphasises renewal and mission in a modern and vibrant city. Sinicisation is a "red line". “We should confidently, openly and warmly welcome everyone to come and see the Diocese of Shanghai.”

Shanghai (AsiaNews) – Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai gave a long interview (15 pages) to the diocesan magazine in which he introduced himself, speaking about how he received the Catholic faith from his parents and how his vocation developed. Above all, his message is about how the Church can grow in China, on sinicisation as a "red line", on the relationship between Chinese Catholicism and the universal Church.

Chinese authorities unilaterally “transferred” the prelate last April from Beijing to the most important episcopal see of the Church in China, an issue that was settled in July when Pope Francis formally appointed him to the post.

The interview was conducted in August but published during the ongoing Synodal Assembly attended by two bishops from the People's Republic of China appointed by Pope Francis on the suggestion of the Council of Chinese Bishops, the body not officially recognised by the Holy See that Shen Bin himself presides.

Although he never mentions the synod, it is easy to see a parallel between the guidelines he indicates and the reflection underway in Rome. For the Church in the Chinese metropolis, which had been without its own leader for ten years, Bishop Shen Bin highlights the challenges of profound renewal.

“Shanghai is a modern and vibrant city, and I believe that the positioning of the Diocese of Shanghai should be in line with this city. In other words, the Diocese of Shanghai should be as modern and vibrant as the city of Shanghai. We cannot always stick to the old rules, think rigidly, be stuck in our ways, and live in the security of our own fantasies. We need to keep abreast of the times and move with the times while adhering to the principles of the Church's faith and good traditions.”

This “requires us to have the courage to make changes, to step out of our comfort zone, to broaden our horizons, and to be proactive.” Specifically, “In Shanghai, the life and development of the church requires us to be creative and imaginative, for the Gospel is ever new, and new wine must be put into new skins”.

Bishop Shen Bin notes that this Church today can count on 90 priests and about 80 men religious, as well as many members of the laity. He also acknowledges that the drop in vocations to the priesthood is now also being felt significantly in China.

“Why were vocations growing from the 1980s to 2000 and then declining after that? There are many reasons for this, and I think one of them is that during the years of growth in vocations, it was the older generation of priests who guided the Church, and their example and charisma attracted the young ones at that time and drew us into the Church; after 2000 it was us, the young priests, who came out, and perhaps we did not do a good job. This situation deserves our reflection and requires our efforts.”

The interview goes on to touch pastoral outreach; however, there is also a very clear focus on sinicisation, the political path traced by President Xi Jinping for all religions in China. “There is a profound lesson that we must learn from, and the mistakes we once made must never be repeated,” Bishop Shen Bin said.

“We must adhere to the principle of patriotism and love for the Church, adhere to the principle of independence and autonomy in running the Church, adhere to the principle of democracy in running the Church, and adhere to the direction of the Sinicisation of the Catholic Church in China. This is the bottom line, which no one can break, and it is also a high-pressure line, which no one should touch.”

Still, “we have many opportunities to feel that the Diocese of Shanghai is a member of the universal Church.” Hence, “we should have the courage to go out and show our confidence and openness as a member of the Universal Church.”

“Since the signing of the Sino-Vatican Provisional Agreement in 2018, the entire Church in China has opened up to the outside world,” he explained. In this regard, the bishop of Shanghai points to the participation of two bishops from the People's Republic already at the synod of 2018 and his presence that same year at the interreligious meeting promoted by the Community of Sant'Egidio in Bologna.

“In my dealings with the universal church, I found that the Chinese Church had more and more friends. It is my experience that we must go out and let the voice of the Chinese Church be heard by the universal Church, and that it is up to us personally to tell the Chinese Catholic story.

“I often say one thing to many of my friends from abroad: firstly, if you want to understand the situation of the Church in China, you have to listen to me because I am a Chinese bishop. I am the head of the Chinese Episcopal Conference, and I know more about the situation of the Church in China than other people do; and secondly, you must go to China to see on the ground, and you will see a completely different Church in China.”

“I think it is not enough just to go out, we have to invite [others] to come to China. [. . .] In the past, it was more about the outside world providing us with opportunities and air tickets. Now I can confidently say, I can provide you with air tickets and invite you to bring your friends to come to China to see what's going on. We now have the confidence to say, I invite you to come to China” and visit the Diocese of Shanghai.”

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