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The Church in China needs contribution of all

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published an interview with Fernando Cardinal Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, in which he spoke of the provisional agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of bishops, signed on 22 September 2018
 
“I feel that within the Catholic Church in China there is a great expectation of reconciliation, unity, and renewal for a more decisive revival of the work of evangelisation.” Cardinal Filoni said when asked about the pastoral significance of the agreement. 
 
He added that while he shared the concerns expressed by many parties, “We cannot stay still in a world that, from many perspectives, is running at a supersonic pace, yet, at the same time, experiences the urgent need to rediscover the spiritual and human values that give firm hope to people’s lives and create a more cohesive society. In a word, this is what Christianity can offer to present-day China.”
 
The cardinal added that, in his correspondence with Chinese clergy and from meetings with bishops, priests, religious women, and the laity, he has observed the desire that the Church in China “might return to a sense of ‘normality’ within the Catholic Church.”
 
Citing Pope Francis’ message to China’s Catholics in 26 September 2018, he noted that it stressed that the provisional agreement is the result of a long and complex dialogue initiated by Pope St. John Paul II and continued by Pope Benedict XVI, one in which the aim was to support the propagation of the gospel, and to reestablish and preserve the unity of the Catholic Church in China.
 
In addition, although limited to certain aspects of Church life and with room for improvement, the agreement spells out for the first time, areas for cooperation between the Holy See and the Chinese authorities in the choosing of bishops.
 
Looking at differences and similarities between the 2018 message of Pope Francis and the 2007 letter of Pope Benedict to Catholics in China, and what has changed over the years, Cardinal Filoni said that two essential issues are affirmed in Pope Benedict’s letter, “The first is that the underground situation is justified in so far as the protection of life and the defense of the faith in adverse circumstances require it; for example, when attempts are made to impose ideologies that are not reconcilable with conscience and Catholic doctrine. The second is that in difficult and complex situations, decisions and choices can only be made to the extent that they do not diminish the capacity for pastoral discernment, which is the responsibility of the bishop in view of the greater good of the diocesan community.”
 
The cardinal observed,“Perhaps what the Message of Pope Francis adds to this still valid teaching of Benedict XVI is the attention to the healing of memory in order to move on. This is a view decisively directed to the future in order to inspire a pastoral vision for the Church in China.” 
 
He elaborated, “Obviously, none of this can be realised without the heartfelt unity of the bishops and the full involvement of Chinese Catholics on the one hand, and the trust of the civil authorities on the other, which is also carried out in dialogue with the Apostolic See.” 
 
Referring to the Pope Francis’ message, he noted that in order to arrive at the point of supporting the spread of the gospel and reestablishing the full and visible unity of the Church, it was essential to first deal with the matter of the appointment of bishops.
 
“Many things can be said about the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops signed last September, but one cannot deny its historical significance for the Church in China,” the cardinal said.
 
He expressed the hope that there would be no situations in which “the agreement is exploited to compel people to do what is not even required by Chinese law, such as joining the Patriotic Association.
 
The cardinal stressed, “The Church says no to a ‘patriotism’ that would signify egoism, close-mindedness or control, and says yes to a “love of country” meaning respect for one’s roots, knowledge of the culture, protection of the common good, and the faithfulness of institutions towards its own citizens.”
 
He said, “We are working concretely and respectfully with the Chinese authorities, and we are hopeful about what will take place from this point on and the good that may develop… with God’s help and the contribution of everyone.”
 
Turning to the matter of formerly excommunicated bishops of the official community, their impact on the unofficial communities and their bishops, Cardinal Filoni observed that because of the events of history, “it was as if a large boulder fell from a mountain and stopped the flow of water; one part of the water flowed underground, while the other part continued to twist and turn on the surface.”
 
The cardinal said that the last 25 to 30 years has been a journey to rediscover the unity of these two currents. He acknowledged that there have been initiatives and ups and downs, and that the going hasn’t been and still isn’t easy.
 
“The years of conflict and misunderstandings cannot be ignored. There is above-all the need to rebuild trust, perhaps the most difficult aspect, toward ecclesiastical and civil authorities entrusted with religious matters, as well as between the so-called official and unofficial ecclesial currents,” the cardinal said, adding that it was not about assigning who wins or loses, or who is right or wrong.
 
He observed that in the 60 years since the Patriotic Association was set up “everyone, in perhaps an unequal and dramatic way, has suffered, both in a physical and moral sense.” He went on to say that the interior anguish of those “who had adhered to or had been bound by the principle of ‘independence’ and therefore brought about a rupturing of relations with the Apostolic See” could not be ignored either.  
 
“It was in order to deal with such situations that John Paul II, after careful consideration, welcomed the cries of those who were seeking mercy and asking for their canonical recognition as bishops in the Catholic Church,” he explained, adding, “The Holy See’s position was different with regard to priests, towards whom the principle that the People of God have a right to the Sacraments prevailed. There was no talk of the illegitimacy of priests, but it was always recommended that ordinations be carried out by legitimate or legitimised bishops.” 
 
Acknowledging that some might think that the Holy See is asking for a unilateral sacrifice on the part of the unofficial community, with no quid pro quo from the official community, Cardinal Filoni stressed that the issue should not be couched in these terms; it’s not about the unofficial Church surrendering nor about a victory for the official Church.
 
“What the Holy See has strived to do for 30 years has been to foster reconciliation between the two communities by rediscovering and reinvigorating their properly Christian and Catholic identity through a common journey toward a greater realisation of what it means to be Christ’s Church in China today,” the cardinal said.
 
“In the Holy See’s view, it has always been held that in China there are not two Churches, a ‘patriotic Church’ and a ‘faithful Church’ (as used in common parlance). In China the Church is one and the wounds that were inflicted upon her come both from within and without. The sensus fidei of the People of God has saved the Church in China from schism,” he explained, adding, “In the current context, we can say that efforts have been made to alleviate the sufferings. It is a challenging task and will require everyone’s contribution to achieve it fully.”
 
The cardinal said, “This journey will require some concessions and sacrifices from everyone, as well as the adoption of new and concrete responsibilities, as Pope Francis requests of all Christians without distinction. There is now the need for gestures of reconciliation and of communion in truth and trusting that the Holy Spirit accompanies the Church and does not abandon her.”
 
Keeping in mind the goal of unity, he reiterated the importance of not viewing the situation in terms of winners and losers. “It would be mistaken and misleading!” he said. Noting that things will not happen automatically nor easily and acknowledging that there will be difficulties, Cardinal Filoni said he sees “a Church more united, more aware, more prepared, and more attentive to the world that she is called to serve” and that he would like to see “a Church more in harmony with the times in which she lives, as well as freer and in a country that wisely continues to update itself.”
 
Speaking to those who have suffered for remaining faithful to the Pontiff and who may now feel confused, and perhaps betrayed and abandoned, called to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:23: “Well done, my good and faithful servant (…) enter into your master’s joy.”
 
The cardinal said, “On behalf of both the Holy See and myself personally, I would like to express sentiments of heartfelt thanks and admiration for your faithfulness and perseverance in trial and for your trust in Divine Providence even in the midst of difficulties and adversities. Many, over the course of these years, have been true martyrs or confessors of the faith!”
 
The cardinal said, “I understand the doubts, I understand the perplexity and at times, I even share them.” However, he said he did not share the attitude of those who—though they may have legitimate reservations—do not try to understand others’ view and also run the risk of “out of sync within the ship of Peter.”
 
He assured, “The pope, together with his coworkers, has done, is doing, and will do all that is possible to be close to the Church in China. Our methods are not infallible, but we truly love the Church and the Chinese people.”
 
Using the image of a tripod, Cardinal Filoni noted that it needs three legs to stand stable. The arrangement between the Holy See and the Chinese government comprises only two. “There needs to be a third support,” he said, “Namely the participation and the contribution of the faithful in China, as well as that of the Catholic community in the diaspora.”
 
The cardinal said, “Only with the contribution of all can the Church of tomorrow be built up, while respecting freedoms, also on the part of the civil authorities… The Church, therefore, needs the free and fruitful participation of all in order to construct civil, social, and religious harmony, as well as for the proclamation of the gospel. God needs the Catholic Community in China!”