CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 19 May 2018

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Dialogue with China: There is no magic wand

Hong Kong (SE): In early May, the Vatican News website began publishing a series of articles to give insights on the criteria and reasons guiding the Holy See in its contacts with the Chinese government. The first of these, a two-part commentary is written by Sergio Centofanti and Jesuit Father Bernd Hagenkord. The first part, published on May 2 and titled, Dialogue with China: There is no Magic Wand, notes that while some recent signs may indicate that steps are being taken, any agreement does not appear imminent.
 
 
In There is no Magic Wand, Centofanti and Father Hagenkord note that representatives of the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China have been in contact for some time, writing that, “Their aim is to attempt to resolve problems regarding the Church in that country, in a constructive and non-confrontational way. These problems include, first and foremost, the delicate issue of appointing bishops.” 
 
They write that the approach of the Church is pastoral and seeks to initiate cooperation that results in a win for all concerned. They point out, however, that the Church does not “presume to be able to solve all existing problems with the wave of a magic wand. Because there isn’t one.”
 
The two writers refer to an interview with Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, in the Italian daily, La Stampa, where he says, “As is well known, with the advent of the ‘New China’, there have been moments of serious contrast and acute suffering in the life of the Church in that great country. In the 1980’s, however, contacts were initiated between representatives of the Holy See and China. These may have had their ups and downs. But the Holy See has always maintained a pastoral approach, trying to overcome opposition and ensuring it remained open to respectful and constructive dialogue with civil authorities. Pope Benedict XVI represented the spirit of this dialogue well in his 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics: ‘The solution to existing problems cannot be pursued through a permanent conflict with the legitimate civil authorities’ (No. 4), he wrote. During the pontificate of Pope Francis, ongoing negotiations continue to move along the line of constructive openness to dialogue and fidelity to the genuine Tradition of the Church.”
 
Centofanti and Father Hagenkord observe that with the revolution led by Mao Zedong and the coming to power of the Communist Party in China, it aimed not only to liberate the masses “from Western dominion, poverty and ignorance, from the oppression of the old ruling classes” but additionally “from the idea of ​​God and religion” leading to “a particularly difficult historical phase and a time of intense suffering for many Catholic pastors and faithful.”
 
They go on to write that the opening up of China in the 1980s saw the start of changes. They acknowledge that communist ideology is still strong and that, lately, there have been signs of a ratcheting up of control in the areas of security and the regulation of socio-cultural life.
 
Centofanti and Father Hagenkord suggest that the recent squeeze might also be an effort to “impose order on an impetuous economic growth.”
 
They observe that, “On one hand, this economic boom has produced well-being, new opportunities and initiatives. On the other, it has disturbed the social fabric: the corruption rate has increased, traditional values have been weakened, especially among young people. In this context, ideological rigidity cannot adequately respond to such profound changes which, inevitably, touch the religious sphere as well.”
 
The two writers, in concluding their first installment, stress that the Holy See “continues to make itself available, in a climate of respectful dialogue, in an effort to contribute to promoting the good of the Church and of society” 
 
Centofanti and Father Hagenkord emphasise that Catholics around the world must understand this also concerns them. They write, “It is not about events happening in a distant country, but about the life and mission of the Church of which we are all members, regardless of where we live.”

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