CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 8 December 2018

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Year of Faith opens with a flood of words

 

At the beginning of October, the Church in China joined the universal Church in celebrating the opening of the Year of Faith.

However, there has been a noticeable difference in style compared with the opening of the Year of St. Paul and the Year of the Priests.

In 2008, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, to which it is closely linked, issued a circular asking all dioceses to hold relevant activities for the Year of St. Paul.

In May 2009, they again issued a joint circular, in which they requested a continuation of prayer for vocations, as the Year of Priests was drawing towards its conclusion in June.

This year, both bodies have been relatively low key. Only the apostolic letter, Door of Faith (Porta Fidei), was posted on their official websites. There have been no other related activities, announcements or news.

Obviously, the ordination of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in Shanghai on July 7, during which he announced he was quitting the Patriotic Association, irked these two government-sanctioned bodies, as well as the government itself.

So it may not be surprising if they are in no mood to make themselves look like they are in line with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Another noteworthy occurrence was the profusion of pastoral letters in the final few weeks before the Year of Faith started. At least 17 of them, from different dioceses, have found their way onto the Internet since late August.

Experience tells us that bishops in mainland China are not the most prolific writers of these letters. You could count on one hand the number that have appeared in China to mark major Church feasts in the past.

So I cannot help thinking that if there has not been a direct instruction from the Vatican, there has at least been some kind of outside encouragement to prompt this sudden burst of correspondence.

True, the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith did issue guidelines for the Year of Faith in January and did recommend the production of diocesan pastoral letters.

But since the Chinese version of the guidelines was not available until late September and our bishops need to take time to write, I think the encouragement might have come before this.

Among the dispatches, the twin pastoral letters that came out of Fuzhou diocese was perhaps the most intriguing. Fuzhou is a complicated place compared with others in China.

Apart from the distinction of official and unofficial Church communities, even the unofficial community is split internally.

The two letters were signed by two unofficial bishops, who are not recognised by the government. One of them was Bishop Vincent Huang Shoucheng, from Mindong, who is also the apostolic administrator of Fuzhou. His letter was intended only for Fuzhou, not his own Mindong diocese.

The other was issued by Fuzhou’s Bishop Peter Lin Jiashan, who describes himself as archbishop of Fuzhou. In fact, the Holy See conferred on him only an honorary title without jurisdiction.

I must admit it occurred to me that these twin pastoral letters suggested a power struggle.

Shanghai is equally intriguing. There, Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian is known as a diligent writer of pastoral letters. He has written many in the past, yet he has not written one to mark the Year of Faith.

I think the reason is obvious. The aging Jesuit has been keeping an extremely low profile since the ordination of his auxiliary, Bishop Ma.

Only a couple of weeks after its opening, the Year of Faith certainly seems to be stirring the faithful. Besides discussions on the core subject, Catholics in Internet forums and chatrooms are also calling for real action.

One of them has challenged the clergy in the official Church to leave the government-sanctioned Patriotic Association in order to demonstrate their faith.

This prompts me to put a question to the writers of those often lengthy, voluminous pastoral letters. Do your deeds truly match your words? Are your writings substantial enough to move us faithful to live out our faith?

That door of faith has opened; it is time for us to reflect and move through it together.

 

Zhang Wang

Pen Name

 

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