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Mixed messages from Patriotic Association anniversary

HONG KONG (UCAN): An official government function to mark the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association carried a bit of a mixed message for the Church and the Vatican, on the one hand stressing Beijing will keep a tight rein on the Church, but on the other refraining from calling the event a celebration.
At what was officially billed as a commemoration, Yu Zhengsheng, a member of the elite seven-member Politburo Standing Committee and chairperson of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, stressed that Beijing intends to keep a tight rein on the Catholic Church.
Speaking to around 100 bishops, priests, sisters and lay leaders from the official Church community at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 19, Yu told the gathering “to ensure that the leadership of the Chinese Catholic Church is held firmly in the hands of those who love the nation and the religion.”
Coming amid the ongoing talks between Beijing and the Holy See over the normalisation of the appointment of bishops, the barb in Yu’s comments is that Beijing is in no mood to tolerate any deviation from its decided path.
This is poignant, as the talks appear to have hit a rock in recent weeks, with Beijing lashing out at the Vatican for enquiring after Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, who has been missing from his diocese of Wenzhou for some weeks.
Yu went on to read the riot act telling his audience to “implement with self-awareness the basic direction of religious works… and always to insist on the direction of Sinicisation of religion.”
However, after the warning came the approbation, with Wang Zuo’an, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, heaping praise on the Patriotic Association for its 60 years of walking the path of adaptation to a socialist society and the principles of independence and self-management.
But Wang then backtracked, warning that the job is far from over and there are still many promises to keep.
He reminded the gathering of the four goals set by the government for the Church to achieve.
He listed them as learning from the guidance given by the party secretary general, Xi Jinping, and sticking fast to a correct political direction in order to deepen the democratic management of the Church; strengthen patriotism and implement social responsibility through charitable work.
The Patriotic Association was established on 2 August 1957 by the National Congress of Catholic Representatives, an organisation that is above the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China in the pecking order and is answerable to Beijing and not Rome.
The government defines the role of the association as acting as a bridge between the Church and its own internal governance offices.
The Vatican does not recognise any of the three national bodies and regards the Patriotic Association as incompatible with Church doctrine, as it proclaims a Church independent from normal hierarchical authority.
The establishment of the association also signalled a split in the nation’s Church, one that has survived until this very day.
Many priests and people have suffered for their refusal to recognise the association or register their communities with it, as apart from theological reasons, they say it has abused Church property.
However, the division is far from black and white as there has been suffering and resistance to government overtures on both sides of the divide.
At the July 19 celebration, some bishops did not wear the insignia of their office, indicating that they did not regard it as a Church event.
But the main part of the commemoration took place prior to the event in the Great Hall of the People at the Tiantai Hotel in Beijing, with around 200 people, most of whom were selected for an office at the last Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives.
Reports on the past, present and future of the Patriotic Association were read and the group sang the national anthem before praying the Our Father and the Hail Mary.
Around 60 bishops celebrated Mass, but the Vatican Insider reported that those who do not have Vatican approval desisted.
Father Shanren, a Chinese priest-commentator, pointed out that the ceremony was held in a low-profile manner, possibly in deference to the delicate state of Beijing-Vatican relations.
“Though the bishops needed to be there, there was not much propaganda about the event,” Father Shanren commented, adding that a July 7 commemoration of the life of the late Father Wang Liangzuo, from southwestern Sichuan, was also held in a relatively low-profile manner.
Sichuan is notable for some of the earliest proponents of patriotic movements in Christian Churches, with Father Wang being the first priest to call for an independent Church, declaring a total break with what were referred to as the imperialist powers, including the Vatican, in 1950.

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