02/18/2010, 00.00
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Underground Priest: we work for the unity of the Church, with Mgr. An and Card. Zen

by Peter Song Zhichun
After the controversy raised by an Italian magazine, on the division between official and underground communities, AsiaNews gladly received and publishes the testimony of a priest in the underground community in China. Appreciation - even if not shared - for Mgr. An Shuxin, who decided to become vice-chairman of the Patriotic Association, esteem for card. Zen, a champion of freedom of the Church. The most important commitment is the recovery of the reconciliation of the Church, promoting "forgiveness" and "martyrdom”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - After reading the article by Gianni Valente in the Italian magazine "30 Days" (No.12 - 2009), as a priest in mainland China, I can express my opinion on two topics covered in the article.  

I know the diocese of Baoding, and Hong Kong and have been in contact with Bishop Francis An Shuxin, coadjutor of the diocese of Baoding, and Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong. I consider both to be good examples to imitate. I am now a pastor in China and serve the Church, trying to put into practice the 2007 letter of Pope Benedict XVI. Given this situation, I feel compelled to express my opinions to make a contribution to the Chinese Church, and I remain open to accept honest advice because I love the Church.

The difficult relationship with the government  

1. I can not believe that the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples lobbied Bishop An in order to induce him to leave the underground church and cooperate with political authorities. In fact, the Holy See leaves each bishop free to act within his powers and does not force the Chinese bishops to give heroic witness in rejecting the Patriotic Association (PA), which has the stated aim of implementing "principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church".  In recent years I have observed that many underground pastors have come out of hiding, for example Mgr. Wei Jingyi, bishop of Qiqihar, or Mgr. Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang. The latter, with his particular witness and honesty, won the legitimacy of his local community. And Msgr. Wei is still today attempting to obtain the legitimisation of his Episcopal identity by the Chinese government. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples follows the directions indicated in the letter from the Pope, leaving individual local bishops the freedom to decide. Especially in the current circumstances, so difficult and delicate for their mission as pastors, "the traditional orientation ‘nihil sine episcopo’ remains valid."  

My experience suggests that it is difficult for underground communities to become official, even if this is also desired by the Holy See, which would like to establish a diplomatic relationship with the Chinese government. To this end the Secretary of State has acted with all its might, but has met with a major obstacle, which is the same one that meets the underground Church in relations with the government: this only intends to legitimize an "independent church" that, in reality, distances itself from our dogma. And how can the Church accept the negation of itself? As the papal letter reiterates their claim to place themselves "above the bishops themselves and to guide the life of the ecclesial community does not correspond to Catholic doctrine."  

After this letter many said they were optimistic about the relationship between church and government and immediately expected to see positive results, when in reality, victory does not reside in the civil relationship with the Government, rather in the clear intention of the pope to recover Church unity in China. As an underground priest I have longed to be able to exercise my ministry in Chinese society by witnessing to the Catholic faith in front of my friends, dear comrades in childhood, but I feel it necessary to accept the sacrifice of hiding as Jesus accepted his Cross, with patience , prayer and forgiveness, accepting the Providence of our heavenly Father.

The facts of Baoding  

2. A detailed reconstruction of the dynamics of the facts concerning Bishop An is difficult owing to a lack of communication and is not necessary to advance of the diocese of Baoding. Constant debate over the reasons for which he was released from prison or has accepted the post of vice president of the PA only leads to further divisions in the diocese. Benedict XVI writes in his letter: "The Holy See, after reaffirming the principles, leaves the decision to the individual bishop who, having consulted his priests, is in a better position to know the local situation, to weigh the concrete possibilities of choice and assess the possible consequences within the diocesan community, albeit with suffering, and which maintains the unity of the diocesan community with its own pastor".   The Holy See has confirmed Mgr. An’s episcopal authority as Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese. The priests must put aside their personal views and obey for the good of the Church and the unity of the diocesan community. Mgr. An is our "older brother”: who has the right to judge him? Personally, I do not agree with his decision to take the post of vice-president of the PA, even if he did so with good intentions. However I can not fail to remember some specific circumstances, and especially what he said. Archbishop An said he had accepted the said assignment after reading the letter of the Holy Father, he found himself before the alternative of taking the said office or to seeing appointed to his post at the head of the diocese, a new unlawful bishop. I understand also that Mgr. An has sought to consult his priests, many of whom have not responded, and in the end felt obliged to not follow the majority opinion, but his conscience. Has Archbishop An made a mistake? Maybe, but I do not feel it in myself to condemn him. St. Peter also made his mistakes. Who can deny that Mgr. An loves the Church? With the voice of the Holy See, the Lord has entrusted him the task to shepherd the local church. I believe that the priests of Baoding must take their share of responsibility for the mistake made by Mgr. An, in so far as their insistence in refusing to accept his authority and in leaving him alone, have caused, to some extent, An’s mistake. I hope that the dear brothers in Baoding gather around the bishop and cooperate harmoniously with him as in the past, especially as they did in 1995.

The help of  card. Zen

3. Thanks to the Holy See and the other brothers in Christ who live outside China we have already seen success, that of safeguarding the Chinese church, which remains in communion with Peter, although she lives under constant threat of a political atheistic nature. This success of the Church in China demonstrates the wisdom of the Holy See and confirms that the Holy Spirit works among Chinese Catholics. The Pope's letter of 2007 is a sign of the Apostolic See’s trust in the evangelization in China. Thanks to the compendium and the transcript or interpretation of the Pope’s letter prepared by card. Joseph Zen, Chinese priests can deepen the Papal directions for their mission and their goals. After that letter, in fact, the two Catholic communities in China are once again slowly moving closer to each other and working together. We are ready to save the Church's unity despite political obstacles.  

Card. Zen deserves respect, his figure is not only important for Hong Kong, given that his voice echoes throughout the world. He is a defender of human rights and the legitimacy of the Catholic Church. His speeches and his "Guide" to understanding the papal letter aim to be a contribution to remain faithful to the intentions of the Holy Father. His voice and his work are a valuable service for Chinese pastors because it teaches them how to apply the principles of the Church to the concretely more difficult and complex situations, provided they are not considered as an alternative voice and contrary to the bodies of the Holy See and they are not bestowed an official character, as if the retired bishop of Hong Kong is playing a supplementary role of the Bishops' Conference of China, as some tend to attribute him.  This disorientation would be of disservice to Chinese Catholics, and is certainly something the same card. Zen does not want.    

Card. Zen also takes equal care of priests from the underground community and those from the official Church. In 1999 he also encouraged them to celebrate Mass together in Belgium, explaining, in harmony with the words of the Pope, that "it is permissible to celebrate together with bishops and priests in communion with the Holy Father, even if they are recognized by civil authorities and maintain a relationship with entities desired by the State and extraneous to structure of the Church, provided the recognition and the relationship does not entail the denial of essential principles of faith and of ecclesiastical communion. "    

4. We need the sincere collaboration of all our brothers in Christ, both inside and outside mainland China, to help the Chinese Church to recover its full unity. All sterile accusation, not only does not help the Church, but unwittingly becomes a tool in the hands of the Chinese Patriotic Association. In China, for reconciliation and forgiveness we must promote the spirit of martyrdom that is the willingness to give our lives for the will of God and the unity of the Church. We must learn the method of dialogue left us by the Second Vatican Council, so that one day we can all say together, "Our Father ...".

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