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Church in China needs your concern

HONG KONG (SE): Father Bruno Lepeu, from the Holy Spirit Study Centre, reminded a gathering of 100 or so people at St. Vincent’s Chapel in Wong Tai Sin on November 13 that it is important they learn more about the situation of the Church in China, as right now is a critical time.

The French missionary told the gathering organised by the Justice and Peace Commission that in view of the negotiations currently being carried on between the Vatican and Beijing it is critical that different views be heard before any agreement is reached.

He reminded people to keep things in perspective, as the current discussions are only about finding an acceptable way of appointing bishops and not diplomatic relationships.

Father Lepeu said that Hong Kong plays a significant role in the negotiation process, as it is a place where people can freely express their views.

He believes the views of different people, be it is Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, John Cardinal Tong Hon or himself, should all be listened to. “It is the only way that a comprehensive agreement can be reached,” he stressed.

Saying that a friendly communication between China and the Vatican has developed since Pope Francis took office in 2013, he said that Beijing also seems to warm to the secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, whom he described as being familiar with issues related to China.

He believes that with Beijing-Vatican ties running high, the Vatican may well want to grab the opportunity to reach an agreement.

The priest from the Paris Mission Society shared that there are signs that some demands from the Chinese government may need to be met during the negotiation process.

He cited the birdcage Bishop in Shanghai, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who has been under house arrest since announcing his decision to abandon the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association during his episcopal ordination in 2012, as writing an article in his personal blog in June this year expressing his remorse over his past action.

But he pointed out that the dramatic tone in his writing indicates that he may have done it under pressure.

Father Lepeu explained that Bishop Ma is well-loved by the people of Shanghai and they do not want the government to replace him. He believes the government needs him to be in his proper place, as denouncing the Patriotic Association has caused big embarrassment, requiring him to do something to save the government face.

“Is it one of the terms of the agreement? We do not know. We can only guess,” he queried.

He explained that as the Church in China is so complicated, it is important for people to listen to more voices, look at situations carefully and come up with an analysis.

“In fact, the power of Catholics in China is really strong. They know the principles of the Church really well and many openly criticise priests or even bishops if they do something wrong,” he said.

Father Lepeu said that he believes Catholics in China have influence and he firmly trusts in them.

He also shared that some bishops of the official Church community, while appearing to be aligned with state authorities, are clever enough to protect their flock at the same time.

“There is no clear-cut black and white there,” he explained.

Willy Lam Wo-lao, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that the president of China, Xi Jinping, unlike his predecessors who held the principle that socialism and religion should respect each other, considers religions, especially those originating from the western world, as being a threat to national security and the unity of the country.

Led by this belief, Lam believes that Xi considers that the Church must be led by the Communist Party and evangelisation must be done in a socialist way.

He cited the demolition of crosses in Zhejiang, pointing out that they were carried out by the law enforcement departments, like public security or the police, rather than civic authorities like the Religious Affairs Bureau or the United Front Work Department.

He shared that Communism has been raised to the status of religion under Xi’s rule and members of the party are only allowed to put Communism in the religion column of their curriculum vitae and are forbidden to have other beliefs.

Consequently, Lam believes that little compromise will be made by Beijing in its negotiations with the Vatican. He warned that Beijing is a highly unreliable signatory to any pact and has a poor track record in abiding by agreements.

Lam pointed out that it has breached many parts of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, but the British government can do nothing about it.

He said he understands the worries of Cardinal Zen and said that the Vatican should not be fooled by beautiful promises made by Beijing and sign what the cardinal calls any evil agreement.

Lam also said he believes the Vatican should not give an inch if any agreement contravenes in any way the principles of justice.

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