09/08/2010, 00.00
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Cardinal Zen: Catholic Church in China, dialogue or confrontation with the government

by Card. Joseph Zen Zekiun, sdb
Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong comes out against the temptation towards total subservience to the religious policy of the Chinese government, marginalizing the experience of the suffering and underground Church. Risks of the papal letter to Chinese Catholics being manipulated.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The following article is a response to Father Jeroom Heyndrickx’s [i] article: "Do not kill the prophets in China. They are the Matteo Ricci are today”, which we received from Card. Joseph Zen and gladly publish.

I am conscious of being a sinner. I have no title to blame other people. But I do not want to add to the many sins of mine one more sin, that of being a dog that does not bark when it is time to do so.

Reverend Fr. Jeroom Heyndrickx has again written an article that begins with these words: “The Open Policy of China enables a fully mature Catholic Church to develop”.

After reading the whole article and also another longer one “A New Encounter between the Catholic Church and China” (in the volume Light a Candle of the Collectanea Serica), I can understand that the prophets in question are the Catholics in China who dialogue with the Chinese Government and that those who want to kill them would be people who encourage them to confrontation, rather than dialogue.

I am afraid that the good old Father is fighting windmills. Where is the dialogue? Where is the confrontation?

Fr. Heyndrickx enjoys many opportunities for dialogue: with his Catholic friends in China, with Mr. Liu Bai Nian, with people in the Chinese Government, with the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (is he the go-between of the two?)

However, do our bishops in China have any chance to dialogue? Among themselves? No! The Government keeps a tight watch to prevent them from doing so. With the Government? Surely not! They have only to listen and obey. They are ordered to leave for destinations they do not know. They are summoned to meetings without knowing the agenda. They are given speeches to read which they have not written and to which they did not even give a look beforehand.

Doesn’t Fr. Jeroom know that our bishops, I mean those of the official community, are treated as slaves, or, even worse, as dogs led with a chain. In the Letter of the Pope to the Church in China it is said that the episcopal authority is being humiliated (“vilified”) in China.

And the confrontation? Who is confronting whom? Can any reaction of a lamb before a lion be qualified as confrontation? If we tell the lamb “Escape!”, are we guilty of incitement to confrontation?

Our good old Father, knowing the reality, recognizes that today there is still persecution and harassment for both communities of the Church in China. So, how can he speak, as he does, as if he were talking about another world?

It is true that the methods of persecution have improved. Now the victims are invited to dinners, to sight-seeing tours, gifts are showered on people and honours (like promotions to be member of the People’s Congress at different levels). They are even given promises that their conscience will be respected. But we know that in orthodox Marxism promises mean nothing. Lies are legitimate means to achieve success.

In these recent days we come to know that they have released Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo from prison and that they would soon to the same with Bishop James Su Zhimin. But the plan would be that the Government would even recognize them as bishops, while the Holy See would ask them to retire, so as to leave the seat free for a successor chosen with “mutual agreement (?!)” In any case, the final outcome would be that what is done is what the Party wants.

We say: “What the Party wants is not what the Pope wants”. By saying so, we are held guilty of confrontation. But, by a “happy chance”, nowadays what the Party wants seems to coincide easily with what the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples wants. So, Alleluia! Everybody should be happy!

Fr. Heyndrickx talks about “mature” Catholics. These “mature” Catholics are like the courtly prophets of old. They do not need to be courageous. They do not risk anything. They need only to be clever. The modern courtly prophets are happily travelling on the imperial wagon of the independent Church and from time to time they shout “Long live the Pope!”

The real prophets, instead, are inconvenient (not only to their enemies) and they are eliminated, or, to use the word used by Fr. Heyndrickx, “killed”. But they are not afraid. They are ready for that. However, the sad thing is that these our brothers of the underground community, who survived so long in spite of the enemy’s efforts, now have to die by the hand of their brothers.

Fr. Jeroom is frank enough to say that our brothers in China must practice the faith “within the existing system” of China; that they must be “well-integrated in the socialist Chinese society of today”. I hope he understands that this means to be part of an independent Church. Unfortunately, our brothers in China are not facing, like Matteo Ricci, a tolerant emperor, but a regime that wants to control also people’s consciences.

The Pope has been often mentioned by Fr. Heyndryckx, as if he is on the side of the Pope or the Pope is on his side. This seems to me (am I making a rash judgment?), to be both hypocritical and irreverent.

Fr. Jeroom is hypocritical, because he, with surprising nonchalance, has criticized harshly all the recent Popes in his long article in the volume Light a Candle. I don’t think he has a high esteem of the Papacy.

Fr. Jeroom is irreverent, because he makes the Pope his accomplice by making selective quotations from the Pope’s Letter:

-           he mentions that the Pope leaves to the individual underground bishops the decision whether to seek Government recognition, but he omits the serious cautioning when the Pope says that “in not a few particular instances, however, indeed, almost always, in the process of recognition, the intervention of certain bodies obliges the people involved to adopt attitudes, makes gestures, and undertake commitments that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics” (No. 7);

-           he quotes from the last paragraph of No. 4 of the Pope’s Letter where it is said that “the solution to existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict with legitimate civil authorities”, but he omits what follows: “at the same time, though, compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church”.

-           It is difficult for me to understand how Fr. Heyndrickx could miss a telling quotation of the Letter of the Pope which is very relevant for his friends. The Pope, in No. 8 Paragraph 11 of his Letter, says: “Unfortunately, … some legitimized bishops have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been legitimized. For this reason it is indispensable, for the spiritual good of the diocesan communities concerned, that the legitimized bishops provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter.” 

In conclusion, I would like to put the question to all people who know the reality of today’s China whether the so-called “Open Policy” means also a real change of the religious policy. I am afraid that Fr. Jeroom may say “Yes”, I feel obliged to say “No”.

It is very sad for me to have to disagree with my old friend, who is a sincere lover of China, on such an important point. I dare suggest that the problem with Fr. Jeroom is that he is too much in love with his successes and successes were many and we all applauded at the time. But now we can see how damaging are the side-effects of those successful initiatives which gave more and more prestige to Mr. Liu Bai Nian and our bishops became more and more enslaved in the process. Please, dear Father, stop and listen to the many brothers who appreciate what you have done in the past and who now beg you to change strategy.

The Letter of the Pope to the Church in China must signal the beginning of a new era of authenticity and sincere will towards real normalization according to Catholic ecclesiology and the universal practice of the Church world-wide.

On the day on which 55 years ago (on the night of September 8th, 1955, Feast of Mary’s Nativity) the Communist regime launched the big-scale persecution of the Church, by arresting in less than one month more than a thousand Catholics in Shanghai. Today, we are still full of trust that Our Lady has a plan for our deliverance. But in the meantime we must be ready to lose everything, as Blessed Mother Theresa says, “God wants us to be faithful, not successful” and as the Pope has said many times to the persecuted Church, “even if at the present everything seems to be a failure, your suffering for the faith will surely bring victory to the Church”. I hope Fr. Jeroom Heyndrickx may agree with me on this.





[i] Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, a 79 year old Belgian Scheut missionary (CICM), is the founder of the Taiwan Pastoral Institute and founding director of the Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation, Leuven Catholic University, Belgium. He is a noted sinologist who has lectured in various Chinese universities and who has nurtured relations with members of the official Church and Patriotic Association.


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