04/14/2012, 00.00
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Fr Lazzarotto and the future of the Church in China

by Angelo S. Lazzarotto
A new book by the PIME missionary looks at the dangers of schism in the Church in China today, as well as the many difficulties of the recent past like Beijing's unlawful ordinations. The book also looks at the evangelising strength of Chinese communities in China.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Fr Angelo Lazzarotto, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) and a great expert on religion in China, has written a new book that will be released in the next few days: Quale futuro per la Chiesa in China? (What future for the Church in China?), Bologna: Emi 2012.

With the help of another PIME member, Fr Gianni Criveller, Fr Lazzarotto describes the current situation of the Chinese Church, full of evangelising life but also so stifled by China's government that it is on the brink of schism, a reference to Beijing's practice of unlawful ordinations, which includes the forced participation of bishops loyal to the pope.

Since Mao took power, the government has tried to destroy the Church (and religion in general). As an alternative, it has tried to set up Churches "independent" of the pope but at the mercy of the state.

Yet, the book's author shows how the Catholic Church has grown despite an ambiguous situation and the heavy pressures and violence it has had to endure. In it, he proposes some strategies for the future, hoping that the Chinese government might understand that when they are free, Christians are also good citizens. Nevertheless, this can occur only through unity and solidarity with the Universal Church.

Thanks to the author's kind concession, we are publishing the book's introduction (translation into English by AsiaNews).

In a recent speech, Pope Benedict XVI stressed once again the work and courage of Asian Catholics who are "called to bear a transparent witness to the importance of the question of God in every field of thought and action." This allows us "to perceive that in Asia, thanks to their faith, vast scenarios of evangelization are unfolding for the Church in the third millennium." In delivering his address to the 25th Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Laity (24-26 November 2011), the Holy Father also said, "The immense Asian continent is home to different peoples, cultures and religions of ancient origin, yet so far the Christian message has reached only a small minority, who all too often - as Your Eminence said - practise their faith in a difficult context, sometimes even of real persecution." ( see AsiaNews, 25 November 2011).

The People's Republic of China holds a central place in this promising yet worrisome reality, not only because of the size of its territory and population, but also because of its economic and political weight, which it is bound to exert in the world.

Even though, today it does not like the title of Middle or Central Kingdom, the country's central place is assured by its ancient civilisation whose influence covers a vast area of East Asia, including its Confucian elements.

Let us not forget that at least until the middle of the last century, the Church focused its main missionary thrust on China. Today two feelings prevail. On the one hand, one senses that the dream of generations who announced the Gospel might finally come true. On the other, there is the bitter reality of a conflict that sees the Church on the brink of a schism whose consequences are unforeseeable.

This brief study, which also relies on contributions that appeared in a recent issue of the journal Ad Gentes [1], has the following order of presentation. There is a first chapter, a bit brutal, describing the grave dangers facing the Catholic Church in China. This is followed in Chapter 2, by a quick survey of past experiences of evangelisation in China. Special attention is paid to the painful "Chinese Rites Controversy" in Chapter 3 by our brother Gianni Criveller, an expert on the history of Christianity in China. Chapters 4 and 5 closely look at the dramatic events that led to the present crisis, trying to see the points on which a constructive dialogue can be built. The final chapter turns to the complex situation in this first half of 2012, stressing the huge difficulties but also vitality experienced by China's Catholic community as well as the precious contribution that comes from the solidarity of the Universal Church at such a difficult time.

By showing solidarity and helping the Church in China be itself, the country's small Catholic minority can quietly contribute to the development of the society in which it lives.

We firmly believe that the growth and witness of this minority will have positive repercussions for the entire Church, offering a credible model of action on behalf of the "New Evangelisation" that Pope Benedict XVI has urged every believer to undertake.

Milan, 29 February 2012

[1]   The biannual periodical on the theology and anthropology of mission Ad Gentes (editor, Mario Menin) devoted issue n.1, volume 15 (2011) to a book titled La China e il cristianesimo (China and Christianity), edited by Gianni Criveller.  In using it, the text's author will be cited using the initials A.G. and the page.

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