12/17/2010, 00.00
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Courage and prophecy: a Vatican David vs a Chinese Goliath

by Bernardo Cervellera
The violence against bishops and opposition to the Holy See are a sign that those in power are afraid about what to do now that China is at a crossroad, faced with a choice between a path of openness and democracy or a return to the times of Mao and the red guards. If nothing is done, this could destroy the country and the economic development Beijing is so proud of.
Rome (AsiaNews) – The Vatican note that condemned the Chinese government for forcing Catholic bishops, priests and lay people to participate in the 8th Assembly of Chinese Catholics is both courageous and prophetic. Of all the members of the international community, the Vatican alone still dares to criticise China. World chancelleries and the business community are more sensitive to the winds of change and the rise of a new rich and powerful nation, more willing to bow to the new superpower, slightly amused perhaps about the Holy See’s presumption that it can face down the Chinese juggernaut with its limited demands for religious freedom.

In the past few weeks, we have talked about Mao’s comeback, about a return to times of the Cultural Revolution. The humiliating restrictions imposed on Chinese prelates, taken away from parishioners who tried to defend them, are an illustration of that. After turning its back on Chairman Mao and the Red Guards, China now stands at a crossroad. It can go in one direction, that of more freedom, or it can give in to fear and the temptation to pull the wagons around the regime.

In its note, the Vatican spoke about China’s “weakness and fear”, not only about Catholics, who are after all only 1 per cent of the total population, but also about its peasants, who have lost their homes and land, its blue collar workers who have never been so exploited as now in a country where the gap between rich and poor is ever-widening, or its intellectuals, like Liu Xiaobo, who propose a path of reconciliation to guarantee human dignity and democracy.

Quite a few sociologists, think tanks and activists have called on the government to give a tired and frustrated population some breathing space; otherwise, it could face another Tiananmen, but one that is a thousand times deadlier and more cruel.

Instead, the authorities are playing deaf and dumb, choosing to uphold the status quo with an old-fashioned iron fist, the same that led to famines in the 1950s and the economic disaster of the 1970s.

The Chinese Academy of Social Science has warned that if the China does not find ways to curb corruption and give people a voice, the economic development it is so proud of will be threatened.

In all this, the international community is not helping by kowtowing to Beijing’s whims and disregarding “simple” human rights in order to protect investments in and from China. By doing so, it is bringing disaster closer to realisation.

In yesterday’s message for World Peace Day, Benedict XVI said that religious freedom is an important resource for society. It grafts onto society ideals that greater than materialism and mercantilism and sets the foundations of working together for the common good. This is what is missing from the Chinese giant, so proud about its power and yet so humiliating for its own enslaved people.

The Vatican note thus does only (and rightly) speak about the papal right to appoint bishops and the Church’s right to be united and free from state meddling, but it also warns China and the world that without religious freedom, Beijing is blindly moving towards self-destruction.

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