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Church in China pushed towards taking a further step

ROME (SE): A subscription only magazine published in Rome with the approval of Vatican authorities, La Civilita Cattolica, has taken the Lunar New Year Greeting of Pope Francis to the Chinese people in 2016 one step further.
In his greeting, Pope Francis praised the beauty and wisdom of Chinese culture, saying, “… I wish to express my hope that they never lose their historical awareness of being a great people, with a great history of wisdom, and that they have much to offer to the world.”
In referring to the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years, Pope Francis added, “In this New Year, with this awareness, may you continue to go forward in order to help and cooperate with everyone in caring for our common home and our common peoples.”
In a 3,500-word article entitled, Catholicism in 21st century China, Father Joseph You Guo Jiang sj contextualises the pope’s words in terms of mission and evangelisation, by focussing on the importance of skill development among the laity in the world’s most populous nation.
Father Jiang believes that this is a strong statement encouraging an acceptance of Chinese culture, including that of the Chinese Communist Party, into Church strategy.
In an article published by the UCAN news agency, Bangkok-based Michael Sainsbury points out that the Church in China, like so many other places, is suffering a crisis in attracting people to the priesthood and religious congregations, as well as in harnessing digital technology for mission.
Sainsbury argues that there is much ground to make up and contends that what Father Jiang is pushing for is fresh thinking in the development of a Catholic Church.
But he is also looking for a Church with Chinese characteristics that will offer a much wider perspective to both the Catholic and the Chinese people in general in terms of a fresh hope and faith, as well as the opportunity for a promising future.
Father Jiang says, “Only when the Chinese Catholic Church goes beyond its own realm to embrace and appreciate other aspects of human life will it make a significant contribution to the cultural, spiritual and even social development of Chinese society.”
He continues, saying, “The Church does not only offer sacramental and religious services, but can also dialogue with Chinese traditions and cultures through its rich history in arts, music, literature and poetry.”
In his New Year greeting, Pope Francis is spelling out clearly that he believes China has much to offer the world and that the Church also has much to offer Chinese society.
Father Jiang notes, “It has been long held that the Catholic Church can contribute to China’s spiritual civilisation process. For example, Church teaching on love, harmony, peace, justice, filial piety, marriage values, social stability and family values... are features that the Chinese Catholic Church can preserve and with them attempt to revitalise Chinese culture and tradition.”
Although the current round of discussions being held between the Holy See and Beijing happens behind closed doors, it seems to be mostly focussed on restarting official relations that will allow the normalising of the appointment of bishops.
But Father Jiang believes that there are other challenges that can be taken up internally in the Church in its everyday operations.
Sainsbury notes that in his article in La Civilta Cattolica, Father Jiang lays out a broader policy for the development of the Church in China.
Pope Francis’ greeting at the Lunar New Year was his first public expression of policy on China, which had been crafted with the assistance of Beijing-based Italian journalist cum university professor, Francesco Sisci.
In that greeting, he moved beyond the letter to the Catholic people of China penned by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, which was a major overture to China of openness on the part of the Church to come to the dialogue table.
But Father Jiang notes that there is still a lot of work to be done in preparing the local Church for this task.
“The Chinese Catholic Church and its leaders at different levels cannot do anything but accelerate the planning and process of laity formation and to develop sustainable laity formation programmes,” he says.
“Church leaders, such as parish priests and bishops, should continue to empower the laity to take more leadership roles in the Church’s mission and service and seek out those who are sufficiently qualified and professional to support the Church’s activities,” he continues, echoing a call that is being heard from the Church all over the world.
Father Jiang then notes that society in contemporary China faces many social and ethical problems and young Catholics are struggling to figure out how to integrate faith into their lives and relate it to other social needs.
He points out, “They want to develop an effective adult ministry, one that asks for greater collaboration and cooperation between clergy and adult leadership. This requires taking the initiative and providing regular activities.”
Sainsbury notes that the article picks up an extremely important point in asking how to leverage digital technology, because the Internet has deeply changed the Chinese social structure and relationships.
“Although the government continues to monitor and censor the Internet, it has nevertheless become a main source and window of information and knowledge. It has influenced and will continue to influence the ethical knowledge and decision-making of Chinese from all sectors of life, particularly the younger generation,” he quotes Father Jiang as saying.
“There are a few popular Catholic websites that provide basic information and knowledge of the Church. However, more needs to be done officially and professionally,” Father Jiang writes.
He points out that the websites of many dioceses are neither updated frequently nor do they function well, adding that this is simply not good enough, as in an Internet and mass media era, the Chinese Catholic Church must readjust its mission strategy by adopting more social network methods for its services and ministries.
Father Jiang is strong on utilising the newer information technologies, such as WeChat, the Sina blog, Weibo (microblog) and other mass media platforms “to evangelise the Chinese people and to share gospel values in a more efficient and effective way.”
In conclusion, he argues strongly that the Church must be sensitive to the needs of those outside of its flock, by discerning the signs of the times and responding to them more promptly and efficiently.
In order to achieve this, he states strongly that leadership training is essential in order to inspire a vision in its clergy and prompt them to work with the laity to discern new ways of realising the mission of God in the Middle Kingdom.

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