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Old tunes no new ideas

HONG KONG (UCAN): A five-day workshop for clergy and Church personnel organised in Beijing by the State Administration for Religious Affairs from June 20 to 24 received a mixed response from those who had been told to turn up.

Several people who were at the command performance reported that in many ways it was a rehash of the same old stuff they have been hearing for years.

“There were old tunes without any new ideas,” one person said, but added that the pressure to conform did not seem to be as great as it has been at previous workshops.

“The political atmosphere was less tense and there was no panel discussion,” he explained.

The two keynote speakers at the workshop were Guo Wei, who holds responsibility for Catholic affairs at the religious administration body, and Wang Zigang, from the United Front Work Department, a government agency responsible for liaising with religious groups.

One person said that the two officials reiterated the principle of a Chinese Catholic Church independent from Rome and spoke about the need to push forward with elections and ordinations of bishops.

The two government representatives spent time describing the correct view of China-Vatican relations and how the Church can strengthen the establishment of the patriotic organisations around the country.

However, one person said that he found Guo rather gloomy and this worries him. 

“I feel like we are returning to past decades. They used the narrow viewpoints of the 1950s and 1960s to analyse religion; looking at religion from the perspective of Marxism and the Communist Party,” he explained.

“Even when talking about the charitable services offered by Churches, the officials only touched upon the topic lightly and only from an economic perspective. This hardly makes me optimistic,” he commented.

But the most controversial input came from Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, from Kunming, when he told the workshop that for the Catholic Church in China inculturation and Sinicisation are one and the same thing.

Bishop Ma stressed that in Beijing, the Church is putting a lot of effort into promoting Sinicisation as a lead for the whole country to cultivate a deeper theological understanding of the ill-defined and mostly undescribed concept.

The bishop, who was ordained without permission of the Holy See, but is in charge of seminary education nationally, as well as being president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, said that this includes how it relates to aspects of the  liturgy, sacred music, architecture, literature and art.

However, others disagreed with Bishop Ma’s interpretation of the two concepts. A Church affairs commentator, Yu Si, said that inculturation means blending local culture to fit in with Church doctrine, while Sinicisation means changing Church doctrine to fit in with the local government party line.

About 150 people attended the workshop with five delegates from each province, with the exception of Hainan, Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang, which have small Catholic populations.

Delegates to the workshop included more than 30 bishops and personnel from the provincial Patriotic Association offices, as well as Church affairs commissions.

During the five-day workshop, some bishops and priests deliberately avoided concelebrating Mass with illicitly ordained bishops who are not recognised by the Vatican.

It was also announced at the workshop that the National Congress of Chinese Catholic Representatives, the governing body of the Patriotic Association, will convene at the end of this year.

Office holders for the bishops’ conference and the Patriotic Association are elected at this meeting, which normally takes place every six years.

Similar workshops have been held for Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Protestants to explore the latest government position on religion, which was spelled out at a national conference on religion held in Beijing from April 22 to 23.

At the long-awaited national conference, the chairperson of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, outlined his vision for “helping religions adapt to the socialist society.”

Xi called for unity among religious and non-religious groups, the localisation of foreign religions in order to make them more Chinese and the prevention of foreign infiltration.

It comes as a direct attack on the worldwide nature of the universal Church and an attempt to stagnate the development of the Church in China.

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