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The suffering and joy of the Church in China

Today, May 24, we celebrate Pentecost Sunday as well as the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians. In 2007, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, in his letter to the Catholics in China, called for this day to be an occasion for of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church in China. 

Each May, the Marian Shrine of Sheshan near Shanghai becomes a major focus of pilgrimage for faithful from around China. However in recent years, restrictions and controls imposed by the Chinese government have deterred many from making the visit. Sheshan also calls to mind Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin from Shanghai, who has been under house arrest since shortly after his ordination in July 2012, as well as the situation of Sheshan Seminary which has trained priests from a number of dioceses in the past, but is currently restricted to seminarians from Shanghai only. 

The difficulties of the Church in China come partially from internal disharmony and partially from external pressure; many religious activities are restricted due to the lack of religious freedom. In 2014, the authorities of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, forcibly removed more than 400 church crosses and demolished a number of both Protestant and Catholic churches resulting in clashes and causing anxiety among the faithful. It would have been better had the issue been handled through dialogue and negotiation.

Furthermore, early this year, news broke of the death of Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang from Yixian, who had disappeared more than 10 years ago. The fact that a 94-year-old pastor had been held in secret detention for so many years was not only a violation of human rights but also left us feeling angry. Similarly, the whereabouts of Bishop Su Zhimin from Baoding, are still unknown since he went missing in 1997. Such sad incidents are too numerous to record.

Last August, Pope Francis made his first visit to Asia, attending Asian Youth Day in Seoul, South Korea, and meeting with several thousand Asian young people. Many delegates from China were prevented from travelling to South Korea for the event by the authorities. However, those who were able to attend expressed gratitude that God helped them overcome setbacks and challenges in order to experience the power of faith. 

These young people greatly appreciated that South Korean Catholics were able to express their respect and love for the martyrs who founded the Korean Church. In particular, the Chinese delegates were deeply impressed with a walking pilgrimage in which they prayed in silence while looking up at the pictures of the Korean martyrs lining the route. They felt suppressed for not being able to openly proclaim the stories of Chinese martyrs and their own faith witness. Nevertheless, they still felt that there was joy amidst the difficulties, their faith was stronger than before, they were closer to God and had a better understanding of the meaning of martyrdom. 

In the face of all this, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong and other Chinese Church communities can continue to play a bridge role with the faithful in mainland China by sharing their knowledge and experience in pastoral work, accompanying them in journeying forward and, in turn, learning from them how to witnesses to faith with perseverance and fortitude. 

 

As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his Prayer to Our Lady of Sheshan: “Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China, who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love. May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world and of the world to Jesus.” SE