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To be in communion and have freedom

Every year on May 24 the Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians. It was also declared “a day of prayer for the Church in China” by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 letter to China’s Catholics. 

Over the past decades, the Church in China has been confronted with many challenges and internal tensions. The pope extended an invitation to pardon and reconciliation. In some dioceses, both the official and the unofficial communities have been able to reconcile or move towards dialogue. However, some communities are still in a state of evasion.

During this Jubilee of Mercy, some mainland Church communities and clergy have been seeking reconciliation and communion. Some Chinese priests who were studying in Europe were able to meet briefly with Pope Francis at the Vatican, but were reluctant to talk much after returning to China. Does it imply that these joyful journeys are also deemed to be sensitive issues?

This May, the atmosphere in the Church in China has been generally gloomy. Three clergy who recently passed away were commemorated. They had been coerced or restricted due to their adherence to their faith principles and their fight for religious freedom. Through their loyalty and passion, people have been given examples to deepen their love of God, strengthen their prayer life and give them courage, and the grace of pardon and reconciliation.

The body of Father Pedro Yu Heping (Wei Keping), from Ningxia, was found in a river last November after he mysteriously disappeared. The priest of the unofficial Church was committed to pastoral work, giving formation to Church members and young people, as well as translating and writing articles. In early April, Bishop Zeng Jingmu, from the unofficial community in Yujiang, passed away. He had been imprisoned for over 30 years for refusing to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. He was refused an episcopal funeral since his status was not recognised by the government. Bishop Zhang Huaixin of Anyang (Weihui), Henan, who died on May 5, had been sentenced to a labour camp for faith. Later, however the clandestinely consecrated bishop accepted government recognition—on condition that he not join the Patriotic Association—in order to enable his diocese and clergy to openly serve the Church. 

Recently, some priests in Hebei were detained and their whereabouts still uncertain and some of the faithful called on the government to protect the rights of the clergy. However, the Chinese government now requires venues for clergy and religious activities be registered or be considered illegal. Prayer meetings, faith formation classes and youth summer camps have had warnings and fines imposed on them, or been forcibly dispersed.

Rule-by-law appears to be the symbol of the progress of the country. However, the violence of its implementation is gruesome and horrific. The forcible demolition of crosses in Wenzhou, Zhejiang, is alarming, putting a big question mark on freedom of religion in China, while the public confession of a lawyer who provided legal aid to local Christians has cast further doubt on the government’s way of handling the issue.

Let us hope that people in China can truly enjoy the right of religious freedom enshrined in the constitution. We ask the intercession of Our Lady of Sheshan, may she intercede for the protection to the faithful in China. SE