02/18/2010, 00.00
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Cardinal Zen: My hopes for the Church in China in this Year of the Tiger

by Card. Joseph Zen Zekiun, sdb
Nearly 1000 days from the Pope's letter to Chinese Catholics, it is hard to see any fruits. But there are some seeds. The most important commitment is reconciliation in the Church, without media exaggerations. The "abnormal interference" of the current government makes "the abnormal secrecy" of the Church still valid. The Cardinal of Hong Kong, a defender of religious freedom, takes stock of the situation.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Many Asian countries are celebrating the New Year according to the lunar calendar which falls in mid-February [and is the Year of the Tiger]. In mainland China, the Lunar New Year is called "Spring Festival". This would be the equivalent of the ancient Roman festival of the "Dies natalis Solis invicti" (birthday of the invincible Sun), later replaced by the Christian Christmas. In Hong Kong this year, the Lunar New Year has brought us cold weather, foggy and rainy. But we know that spring is upon us. The Holy Father's Angelus address on Sunday 14 February, greeted all those people who are celebrating, hoping that they will maintain and enhance "the rich heritage of spiritual and moral values, which is firmly rooted in their culture."  

So it is only right that, despite everything, we begin this year in hope. The Holy Father in his encyclical Spe Salvi spoke of small hopes, expectations every day, of our many small desires. But then he says there is great hope, that of salvation and eternal happiness. I would like to focus on a hope that I would call of intermediate measure, which is the hope for our Church in China.

Pope's letter  

It's been almost a thousand days (960, to be exact) since the publication of the historic letter of Pope Benedict XVI to our dear Church in China, but the seed sown by the Pope still struggles to blossom and bear fruit.  The letter gave a clear direction for change, a maturation and progress. The journey however seems excessively slow.  

The Holy Father has repeated clearly the Catholic doctrine on the Church. It is and must always be, one and founded on the Apostles. Therefore having other bodies that place themselves above the bishops to lead the Church is not normal. So far there has been no sign of even the beginning of normalization. It seems only right to seek what is lacking in the meantime. Without claiming to be the ruling judge, I have tried to find some reasons for this lack of progress.

Desired balance between clarity and understanding  

As I said immediately after its publication, the Pope's letter is a masterpiece of balance between the clarity of the principles and understanding for people. I also said that it was easy to break this balance, which depends greatly on both sides of the equation. Now it seems that, on the side of clarity, it has been lacking by default, whereas on the part of the understanding by excess.  

It seems that government authorities have not believed the time ripe for change, while our side has not wanted to encourage our brothers to further efforts of authenticity.  

Some say that I have seen a lack of clarity in the Pope's letter, but so convinced of the clarity am I that I fail to understand how some were capable of misinterpreting it, even by some with are deservingly considered an expert in matters of the Church in China.  

Reconciliation is certainly a main theme in the letter. From my heart I hope that all sides will open their hearts to feelings of sincere fraternity and that the brothers of the two communities will promote common initiatives of prayer, dialogue and pastoral partnerships be they within limits and constraints. But it is not always possible to come to the unification in the sense of structure, because this is still under the control of the party.  

Some, citing the Pope's letter, say that "the underground is not a normal life of the Church" and stops there. By doing so, he quotes out of context (leading some to think that the decision of those who remain in hiding is abnormal), while the text says that "pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and not to accept interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the life of the Church "(so is the abnormal interference that created the unusual secrecy). Therefore, it is wrong to say that the Holy Father has encouraged everyone to seek government recognition, while the Pope has reminded everyone that to achieve this aim they can not resign themselves "to adopt attitudes, make gestures and undertake commitments that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics. " This is true even if the person involved, in the past gave heroic witness of faith, and in the present has acted in good faith. Respecting a person does not necessarily mean agreeing with their every decision. Beyond these basic points already clear in the letter, but still subject to unbalanced interpretation, there remain other issues of detail, the Holy Father says, the letter does not “pretend to deal with.” As a brother who wants to come to the aid of his brothers, I prepared a “guide” that helps to address these details in the spirit of Pope’s letter, without any claim to a monopoly of truth.

From my recent pronouncements, somebody thinks he can judge that I am taking unilateral stance in favour of the clandestine community. This is far from the truth. I believe to be among the first to testify before the whole Church that there is so much loyalty and consistency even in official community. The fact is that at this moment it seems necessary to encourage those in the clandestine community and to urge some brethren of the official community to greater coherence, with sincere admiration and understanding for the ones and the others.

 Hoped normalization

Can we hope that during this New Year the supreme leaders of our nation will decide to afford Catholic citizens the right to live their faith normally? In giving a positive answer to this question we are encouraged by the fact that they have already shown to understand that we are dealing with faith and conscience. Indeed, they have accepted that illegitimate bishops are legitimized by the Holy Father and that new candidates for the episcopate are approved by the Roman Pontiff to do before their ordination. Why not come to a final clarification, after a sincere and open dialogue, and suggested by the Holy Father in his letter?  

Another hope for the New Year is that on our own, children of the Church, will not create more obstacles for the goal of normalisation and consequently we all strive to objectively understand and faithfully follow the letter of the Pope, despite any differences that must be overcome and not inflated along the lines of a certain journalistic style.  

Hoping by praying  

I said that my hopes for the New Year are of an “intermediate measure”.  But maybe I have to admit that they are also "high hopes" that will never be accomplished without great sacrifice, without humility and courage, and without mutual openness of heart, recognizing ourselves (Catholics and Communists) as brothers of the great Chinese nation.  

But human efforts certainly are not enough; it will take a miracle of God through the intercession of Mary Help of Christians. So we must hurry this miracle with our prayer, prayer for all, in mainland China and abroad, starting with this Holy Lent, in which everyone will examine his infidelity. Trusting in the Passion of the Redeemer, we look with confidence to the effectiveness of the Resurrection for a flowering of the Church and a new harmonious order of the nation, founded on "spiritual and moral values”, especially honesty and respect for the dignity of human person,” especially honesty and respect for the dignity of human person.


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See also
PIME dean celebrates 75 years of priesthood, entirely dedicated to China
Cardinal Zen: The Church in China two years after the Pope's Letter
Christian Churches in Hong Kong want to live the unity of faith
Official and underground priests in China ponder Card. Bertone’s letter
Cardinal Zen: Catholic Church in China, dialogue or confrontation with the government


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