CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Church in China needs support in its struggle

HONG KONG (SE): The enormous obstacles placed in the way of unification for the splintered Church communities in China were presented as the greatest challenge to both faith and hope for the Catholic people on the mainland at a combined reflection and prayer meeting held on May 22 at St. Jerome’s parish in Tin Shui Wai.

The former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, described the well-known divide between the official Church communities, which are registered by the government, and the unregistered, or unofficial communities, as being the result of deliberate government manipulation.

Cardinal Zen said that the political situation created by the government under which the Church is forced to operate is the root cause of the division among the Catholic people, which Father Sergio Ticozzi described as a factor external to the Church, rather than a problem of its own making.

Nevertheless, the priest from the Pontifical Institute for Missions pointed out that there is no clear way in which this problem can be addressed, other than praying that people can remain loyal and never lose their spirit of hope or trust in faith.

At an afternoon organised by the Holy Spirit Study Centre and the Justice and Peace Commission as part of the worldwide Day of Prayer for China marked on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, May 24, Cardinal Zen pointed out that neither the official Church communities nor the unofficial ones are free from government interference, which often amounts to persecution.

As a result, he said that reunification cannot simply take place by those who have remained faithful to the unofficial communities joining together with the official, or government-recognised community.

Cardinal Zen quoted Pope Francis as supporting the view expressed by Pope Benedict XVI in his letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007, where he pointed out that the official Church community has not yet reached a state of sufficient stability to be able to welcome people from the unofficial communities effectively.

In fact, he said that there are people who have gone the other way, shifting their allegiance from the official community to the unofficial in order to escape from the ongoing government manipulation of Church activities.

While the presence of illicitly ordained bishops in the official Church remains a big sticking point for many Catholics, currently eight out of the 70 were ordained without a papal mandate, this only reflects the extent to which the government can interfere in the internal business and daily life of the Church.

However, while there may be great difficulties involved in reunification between the official and unofficial communities of the Church in China, the matter is being addressed.

Father Bruno Lepeu pointed out that study centres have been set up with the express charter of promoting academic exchange, as well as to share the burden of addressing the difficulties involved in the formation of Church personnel on the mainland.

He added that Catholics in China have responded to these overtures by showing their determination to be part of the universal Church and live their faith in day-to-day affairs.

“Catholics in China have a strong national identity. They choose to take part in many activities of the universal Church, as they hope that the world will know about the presence of Catholics in China,” the French Foreign Mission Society priest said.

He pointed to the presence of 50 young people from both the unofficial and official communities who attended Asian Youth Day in South Korea in 2014 as being an example of their willingness and determination to be part of the worldwide Church.

He said that he especially admired their determination, because all up, 120 had put their hands up to attend, but some 70 or so of them had been prevented from leaving the country by the Chinese immigration authorities.

He said that he believes that the 50 who took the risk to be there should be honoured for their courage and that their presence was a great testament to their determination.

Annie Lam Shun-wai, from the Holy Spirit Study Centre, said that this determination is also reflected in the activity of Catholic people on home soil.

She reminded the gathering that in a sense, the Church in China, despite its long history, is relatively young, as it was only in the 1980s that the turbulent political situation in China allowed it to regain its public face.

She said that the determination of people to involve themselves in charity work is also a clear testament to their commitment both to their faith and determination to build an harmonious relationship with wider society.

“The Church has to respond to the needs of the society so as to integrate into it,” Lam said.

She explained that the Church has deliberately set out to help the weakest people in China, as reflected by its work for people suffering from Hansen’s Disease and AIDS, who are treated as social outcasts by mainstream society.

Figures from October 2013 show that there were around 80 to 100 sisters in China involved in running institutions that care for those afflicted with the diseases.

However, Lam also noted the frustration that they face, because the official clamp placed on religious freedom, makes it impossible for them to develop or expand their skills and services.

But over and above its caring outreach, Lam noted that the Church in China also needs to play a prophetic role in a society which has bred an environment of low moral values and a variety of family problems.

All speakers at the afternoon reinforced the need that the Church in China has for support from the outside, as it cannot be expected to go it alone.

In this context, Father Lepeu said that he hopes that Catholic people in Hong Kong will make a commitment to learning more about the Church in China, as their understanding is a real support to them in their efforts  to integrate themselves into the universal Church.

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