Two years after China-Vatican agreement. Repression the great equalizer for underground and official Church (III)
AsiaNews' investigation into the situation of the Church in China almost two years after the agreement between China and the Holy See continues. The testimonies we present today, speak of closed churches, blocked masses, canceled catechism courses, crosses removed, publications for underground and official communities censored. Government repression affects not only Catholics, but all religions.
Rome (AsiaNews) - After the Sino-Vatican Agreement, signed two years ago, the situation of the underground Church is "increasingly critical": churches have closed, masses have been blocked in private homes, catechism courses have been canceled. But even for the official Church, the one recognized by the government, limits are imposed and capillary controls applied: crosses removed, publications censored, catechism blocked. This is what emerges from the two testimonies that we present today, from a layman, Paul, in southern China, and Father Giovanni, from the north. Today's testimonies (part three in a series of investigations: Part I, Part II), have a special character: they show concern for both branches of the Church, official and unofficial, thus responding to Pope Francis' message on a momentum towards the reconciliation of Christian communities. The priest also shows that the repression does not concern only Christians, but all the communities of all religions in China, confirming that religious freedom is good for all society and it cannot be a "confessional" issue of caring only for your group. These testimonies also show how the Chinese government's crackdown policy differs in some areas. Paul, for example, says that in his diocese there is no prohibition for young people under 18 to go to mass; Fr. Giovanni affirms that in the bishops' installation ceremonies there is no longer any mention of the "independent Church". But it is also true that in many dioceses the recognition of bishop and priests takes place only through adherence to the "independent Church". (B.C.)
After the signing of the Sino-Vatican Agreement, the situation of the underground Church is increasingly critical, the parish places of prayer have been closed, the public celebration of Sunday Mass is no longer allowed, priests can do nothing but celebrate Mass privately in the house of some faithful, without communicating too many faithful for participation. Despite this, even private Masses are often stopped by local officials, not to mention catechesis courses.
And the situation is no different for the official Church of which I am part. Bishops and priests seldom discuss the Sino-Vatican relationship in public because they believe it has little to do with the faithful. Their opinion towards the Agreement is rather positive, even if, in their hearts, they know well that in one way or another, the government is targeting religious freedom, but they cannot say it explicitly. Here, minors under the age of 18 can enter the church, it is not even mandatory to display signs that indicate "love for the country and the party".
Paul, southern China
The Agreement has its positive aspects, but it certainly cannot solve all the problems we are facing. The certification of religious personnel recognized by administrative authorities, with reference to priests, is similar to the "Celebret" card. It is examined by the Office of Religious Affairs, above it there is the stamp of the Provincial and Religious and Ethnic Affairs Committee that of the diocese. This has nothing to do with the Patriotic Association.
However, restrictions of religious policies are objectively present.
The restrictions do not concern only the Catholic Church, but all religions. For example, there are 40 mosques in our diocese, from which the crescent and dome have been removed. All crosses from a county's Protestant churches have been removed, while only the cross from a newly built Catholic church has been removed. According to the administrative authorities, this is not about removal, but about a change of location, to place the crosses on the front wall of the church.
The underground Church in many places has become official: just a simple registration with the administrative authorities, admitting that you are a religious personality.
Restricting [religious freedom] is a general trend: the catechesis courses of our diocese are also suspended. All books must bear a serial number, otherwise they cannot be published and the sale of sacred objects in the parish shop is not allowed.
The so-called "transformation of the underground Church" has always been the policy of the administrative authorities, it has nothing to do with the signing of the Agreement. In general, everyone feels the pressure, not just the underground Church.
In my opinion, the positive sides of the Agreement are as follows: first of all, with the signing of the Agreement, the ministry of some unofficial bishops has been recognized. Almost two years after the agreement, neither side wants illicit bishops, so both sides are actively addressing this problem. The second aspect: at the consecration of the bishop and in the declaration of installation, the terminology of the "Independent Chinese Church" has been removed.
Giovanni, North China