06/27/2016, 13.39
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Mgr Ma Daqin’s volte-face, a cross to bear for the sake of Shanghai

by p. Pietro dalla Cina

The auxiliary bishop of Shanghai holds dear the welfare of his diocese and intends to carry alone the burden of his statements of four years ago. Fr Lombardi’s clarification on the role of the Holy See dispels any doubt: the Letter of Benedict XVI to the Chinese Church is still valid; thus the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association's position is not accepted by the Vatican. A Chinese priest comments. Translation by AsiaNews.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - On July 7, 2012, Thaddeus Ma Daquin was ordained as the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai. When he addressed his acceptance speech, he claimed that "he would no longer hold any positions in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association" (CPCA). His words were received by a thunder of applause from the participants at the ceremony while officials angrily stormed away from the hall. Since that afternoon, Bishop Ma Daqin was placed under house arrest in Sheshan, and soon after, Bishop Jin Luxian of Shanghai also relieved Ma of his official duties for two years as the pastor at Pu Dong Zongduo and Tangmuqiao Lourdes Church.

After this incident, many of the faithful across the country praised Ma Daqin for his courage and boldness and made him a hero of the Chinese Church. Retired Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and Savio Tai Fai Hon, who is the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of the Peoples, both expressed support for and solidarity to Bishop Ma.

Shanghai 's Bishop Ignatius Jin Luxian, who always wanted to please both the government and Catholic Church, was admitted to a hospital because of health reasons. On April 27, 2013 he passed away. It was a pity he was not able to complete the transfer work of the bishop. Shanghai's Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, who belonged to the underground church and was very loyal to Rome, passed away on March 16, 2014. Thus, two Jesuits shepherds left the Shanghai diocese and entered the kingdom of heaven.

On February 28, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI, who is known as a man of principle, stepped down. Obviously, Thaddeus Ma Daqin was selected as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai during Benedict XVI's pontificate; therefore, the way he follows the pope's spirit is clearly visible.

On May 27, 2007, Benedict XVI published a pastoral letter to the Chinese church, clearly stating that "implementation of the principle of independence and autonomy, self- management and democratic principles of the Church" is not compatible with Catholic doctrine, which from the time of the ancient Creeds professes that the Church to be "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic." In summary, pastors and lay faithful will recall that the preaching of the Gospel, catechesis and charitable activity, liturgical and cultic action, as well as all pastoral choices, are uniquely the authority of the Bishops together with their priests in the unbroken continuity of the faith handed down by the Apostles in the Sacred Scriptures and the Tradition, and therefore, they cannot be subject to any external interference.

After Ma Daqin was ordained, in order to focus on pastoral work and accept the instructions of the Church's authority, he chose not to serve the CPCA, which is associated to government officials. This action and decision were completely legitimate and blameless. However, due to political circumstances, Bishop Ma’s statements clearly challenged the Administration that had set boundaries for the Catholic Church. In other words, the Administration could not allow someone who had publicly spoken out against the CPCA to perform the duties of the Bishop of the local church. So it was predictable to see Ma Daqin at Sheshan, under house arrest at the convent for deep introspection. Of course, it is all for the faith and the defence of Church Laws. Being under house arrest was worthwhile, for it is an action of sacrifice and dedication.

On March 13, 2013, after the papal conclave, Argentina's Cardinal Bergoglio was elected pope with the name of Francis. His style, especially with regard to the relationship between the Holy See and China, as well as his way of handling the relationship between the universal Church and the local Church were however different from that of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis seems to be more pastoral-oriented and flexible. And yet, this kind of style makes the Chinese faithful, loyal to Holy See, feel confused without a sense of direction.

Pope Francis promoted Archbishop Parolin as the secretary of state of the Vatican. During Pope John Paul II’s era, Bishop Parolin has helped Cardinal Casaroli, who was secretary of state at that time when they were in communication with the Chinese government. Furthermore, Pope Francis himself has repeatedly expressed a desire to visit China. In order to achieve this goal and improve the relations with China, Pope Francis apparently abandoned the principles that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had consistently adhered to.

The secret meetings between the Vatican and China have become their main priorities and are regarded as positive signals in improving Sino-Vatican relations. However, Bishop Su Zhemin and Bishop Ma and others Chinese religious are still in prison or under house arrest, which seems to be outside the negotiation of both sides.

Father Jerome Heyndrick, a Chinese-Vatican relations expert, often shared what seemed to be good news. However, the news eventually ended in empty promises and disappointment; yet people still had high hopes and were willing to hope. In the meantime, the President of China, Mr. Xi Jinping, began to pay close attention to religious affairs and held a Conference on Religious Affairs, advocating the “Sinicization” of religion. The ordination of Assistant Bishop Zhang Yinlin of the Anyang Diocese went smoothly; Joseph Martin Wu Qinjing was installed to work openly as the bishop of Zhouzhi, Shaanxi Province.

Both events seemed to point to a better future in Sino-Vatican relations. As Bishop Ma Daqin retreated in Sheshan, it was impossible for him not to ponder and reflect carefully on the situation. Even Bishop Li Liangui of Xianxian of Hebei Province, who has always been considered very loyal to the Holy See, openly said that Ma's resignation from the CPCA was not worth it.

Moreover, because of the death of Bishop Jin Luxian, foreign and domestic media highly praised his great contribution to the Church in China; conversely, Bishop Ma's courageous behaviour seems to be a game of personal heroism, especially in the Shanghai diocese. With the closing of Sheshan seminary, priests and nuns were forced to undergo re-education classes. His heroic act came with a high price and was responsible for what happened in Shanghai Diocese.

Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican’s second highest ranking official, also released a message stating "instead of being a defender and fighter, the bishops should shepherd the flock." Criticizing one of Tertullian's famous quotes, a local scholar, Father Paul Han said that the idea that "the blood of martyrs, the seed of new Christians" is out of date.

Therefore, it is understandable that the Bishop wants to be a shepherd of his flocks and not a fighter. Ma is now bound to be accountable for openly claiming that he did not want to be associated with the CPCA four years ago. On his blog, he had no choice but to repeatedly praise Bishop Jin Luxian, for whom he did not have strong admiration in the past. Imagine how difficult it is for him to swallow all the humiliations and sufferings in today's social environment to adapt to a socialist society, to strive for the Sinicization of the Catholic Church in China, and praise the CPCA. This might be the bishop's way to make comeback to active life.

Despite being sick in bed, Cardinal Zen is still concerned about the sad fact of Ma's volte-face, for this elderly Cardinal is very loyal to Rome and wants Rome to clarify the facts and give direction. I think Bishop Ma is wise. After observing the political climate and observing the movement of the Holy See, he decided to swallow his pride and bear the heavy burden, so that he can be in charge of Shanghai diocese again, following the spirit of Bishop Jin Luxian to cooperate with the government and save the Church (in a distorted way).

Although it might cause chaos and bring rebuke, as long as he can turn the tide and continue to serve the Church in China, the pain in his heart can be lessened.

On June 23, 2016, Father Federico Lombardi, spokesman of the Holy See Press, published a statement in response to all the speculation and concerns about Bishop Ma.  It says that "the Holy See was informed only through Ma’s blog and news agencies.  In this regard, there is no direct information available.  Therefore, any speculation on the role of the Holy See is not appropriate.  The personal and ecclesial life of Mgr Ma Daqin, like that of all Chinese Catholics, is followed with particular care and concern by the Holy Father, who remembers them daily in prayer.”

Father Lombardi’ answers did remove doubts and worries among people about the possibilities that Ma’s change was inspired by the Holy See (even though Father Lombardi did not specifically say so).  Ma Daqin's remarks have not been dictated by Vatican.  It is impossible for the Holy See to ask him to praise the CPCA in writing, because the CPCA itself is a political organization as Pope Benedict XVI clearly said in his letter to the Chinese Church.  Pope Francis also reiterated its validity, and the Holy See cannot contradict itself.

The main reason for Ma to write an article of repentance is because he wanted to come out of imprisonment and restore Shanghai diocese’s normal functioning, and then resolve the conflict with the government for the common good of the Church.

Ma Daqin is a thoughtful shepherd. He will reflect what he learned from his experiences to do good for his people, applying and pondering Bishop Jin’s concept to avoid irreconcilable conflicts and consequences.

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