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International conference covers Church in China since 1979

HONG KONG (SE): Scholars and China Church specialists gathered to exchange and discuss views at an international conference on the Catholic Church in China since 1979 at the Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). 
 
The conference, which ran from June 14 to 15, was coordinated by Dr. Cindy Chu, and was jointly organised by the HKBU Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of History, and Modern History Research Centre, as well as the Catholic-run Yuan Dao Study Society.
 
Father Gianni Criveller of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), delivered the keynote talk on Being a Chinese Catholic since 1979: walking an uneasy path in a changing country of China.
 
Father Criveller, a Church in China specialist now working at the PIME International School of Theology in Italy, gave an account of historical facts about the Church in China since 1978 when China opened its doors during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. 
 
He proposed five bishops as fathers of the contemporary Church in mainland China: Ignatius Gong Pinmei (Kung) of Shanghai; Dominic Deng Yiming (Tang Yee-ming) of Guangzhou; Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding; Anthony Li Du’an of Xi’an; and Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai.
 
“They were great Church leaders for their people, all suffered persecutions and great difficulties. They made different and difficult pastoral choices, always with the best interest of the People of God at heart,” he told the conference.
 
In his talk, Father Criveller said that at the time of Deng Xiaoping, Pope John Paul II closely followed events in the new China hoping to make a breakthrough in the relationship between the two sides. Similarly in 2013, the election of Pope Francis was contemporary to the inauguration of Xi Jinping as the leader of China. “Both John Paul and Francis tried to reach out to the Chinese supreme leaders,” he noted.
 
As to the challenges to the life of Catholics in China, the Italian priest mentioned the official and unofficial communities pointing to a paradoxical outcome: Catholics in the official Church are not really free, as they have to follow the instructions of government officials, while those in the unofficial community are emotionally and spiritually free to take their own risks.
 
Ideological nationalism and the elevation of Confucianism as the sole representative of Chinese thought are the great challenges to Christianity today, considering the ‘Sinicization’ programme of China’s president, Xi Jinping, Father Criveller continued.
 
In the last decade of 20th century, and the first decade of the present century, China was interested in the phenomenon called “Christianity fever.” While evangelical groups grew tremendously, Catholic communities decreased in the number of faithful. This is a great challenge for Catholicism. Similarly, Catholics are challenged to be more engaged in academia by the phenomenon of “Cultural Christians”—mostly confined within the Protestant world, he noted.
 
The transmission of faith to the younger generation is the most serious challenge facing Catholic communities in a secular, postmodern and globalised Chinese society. The huge process of urbanisation is also a challenge to the faith, which was spread mostly (but not exclusively) in rural villages, he said.
 
Speaking on the unofficial Catholic Church in China since 1979, Father Sergio Ticozzi PIME, senior researcher of the Holy Spirit Study Centre, explained the reasons for some Church people of staying underground, and the difficulties and situations of those communities like the formation of priests and sisters, ordination of new bishops, catechetical and liturgical initiatives for the faithful. He noted that there was the establishment of a kind of bishops’ conference, which was not recognised by the Holy See.
 
Father Ticozzi pointed to the suffering that Catholics from the unofficial community endure due to constant oppression by the authorities, as well as their hopes and worries in the context of the dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese authorities. 
 
Father Bruno Lepeu of the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), presented the recent development of youth ministry of the Catholic Church in China noting that its progress since 2000 has been enlightening, as the young Catholics “have a rich experience of community life … with deep spiritual experience” and “fosters lay ministers, vocations and dynamism for the renewal of the Church.”
 
Father Lepeu, also a researcher of the Holy Spirit Study Centre, said the youth ministry in China faces difficulties, including the lack of support from Church leaders and difficulty in reaching all young people amid political restrictions. Nonetheless, the ministry is beginning to “bear promising fruit” and helps the Church in China to “move towards a more participatory and collaborative fraternity.”
 
Father Duan Chunsheng of the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Theology and Philosophy, spoke about the situation and development of the Church in Shanxi. 
 
Dr. Rachel Zhu Xiaohong of Fudan University, in her presentation on Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in Shanghai, discussed the role of Patriotic Association in Church in China today. 
 
Jesuit Father Paul Mariani of Santa Clara University, gave a presentation on a “miracle at Sheshan” of 1980 and its interpretations.
 
Other speakers focused on topics of Latin American identity in China, the Chinese Bible, Pope Francis and the Jesuit approach in China, and Catholic charitable organisation, Jinde Charities.
 
The conference also heard presentations about Hong Kong. Sister Beatrice Leung of Wenzhao Ursuline University of Languages, made a comparison between Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, former bishop of Hong Kong, and predecessor, Bishop Francis Hsu Chen-ping, the first Chinese bishop of the diocese. Dr. Yuen Chi-wai of the Chinese University delivered a paper on the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Sai Kung, Hong Kong. 

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