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China’s seminaries 30 years after reopening

HONG KONG (SE): It is now just over 30 years since the seminary in Beijing opened its doors and began accepting students for the priesthood for the first time in decades. That was in 1982.

In subsequent years, 12 more seminaries were opened around China, as the country began to squeeze its way out of the grips of the Cultural Revolution.

The most modern of the seminaries in Beijing is known as the National Seminary, and the others have grown into regional serving institutions.

In its newsletter for March 2014, the Verbiest Institute in Taipei suggests that it is largely thanks to the hard work and training of the older generation of clergy, who with the support of various Church organisations both within China and abroad, that this became possible.

“They have overcome difficulties in order to train many young priests. In doing so, they succeeded in meeting the challenge faced by all of the dioceses following the reopening of the churches—the generation gap in the clergy,” the newsletter says in an article entitled, A Celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Seminaries of the Catholic Church in China.

First it looks at the history of the National Catholic Seminary of Beijing, noting that over a 30-year period, it has welcomed 18 academic intakes made up of 628 seminarians which has seen more than 300 priests and seven bishops ordained.

Currently, the seminary has 117 seminarians, as well as 23 priests and sisters engaged in advanced studies at the institute, plus a further nine preparing for to take master’s degrees overseas.

As well as sending students abroad for post-graduate courses, the seminary invites foreign professors to teach and give seminars, which re-enforces its connection with the universal Church.

Nevertheless, the Verbiest Institute Newsletter says there are always new challenges on the horizon and the biggest two at present are a shortage of applications to the seminary and the on-going struggle to keep the standard of education high.

However, it also points out that these are not necessarily problems manufactured outside of the seminary walls, as the internal management of the Church can also be to blame.

It says that a long hard look at management practices is needed and speaks of “the less savoury aspects of the internal management of the seminaries.”

Under things that must be questioned, it lists a thorough examination of the impact of Church values on the students and the influence that bishops have had, and still do have, on seminary life.

It points out that they come from two sides of the fence, the extreme of the unofficial Church communities and the other extreme of some who are not recognised by the Vatican, as well as almost everything in between.

The other factor that it notes must be examined is the degree of influence that the government has on creating the spirit and ethos of the campus.

“That puts a lot of pressure on the training of the seminaries and they need great wisdom to face different disturbances. Any mistake can hurt badly; the seminary of Shanxi and the seminary of Shanghai were forced to close due to such problems,” the newsletter notes.

Nevertheless, the article concludes that the experience of the past 30 years is testament to the fact that the Holy Spirit has been at work and looking to the future.


It says, “We are still full of hope.”

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