By Sandro Magister, June 27, 2018
In his recent interview with Philip Pullella of Reuters, Pope Francis was also asked about China and about what cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin had said about it, according to whom “dialogue moves forward with successes and failures, two steps forward and one back.”
Francis expressed confidence in an agreement between the Holy See and the Chinese authorities, even if this does not come soon:
“I think the Chinese deserve the Nobel Prize for patience, because they are good, they know how to wait, time is theirs and they have centuries of culture…They are a wise people, very wise. I respect China a lot. […] With respect to time, someone mentioned Chinese time. I think it is God’s time, forward, calm.”
And as for the criticisms of Cardinal Joseph Giuseppe Zen Zekiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, he downplayed them:
“I think he’s a little scared. Perhaps age might have some influence. He is a good man. He came to talk to me. I received him, but he’s a bit scared. Dialogue is a risk, but I prefer the risk to the sure defeat of not talking.”
Lately, however, the news from China has not been encouraging at all. In May, Settimo Cielo reported on an upswing of anti-Christian repression, and the flimsy justifications set forth by the supporters of an agreement at any cost were worthless.
On June 19, the highly informative website “Bitter Winter,” which deals with religious freedom in China, founded and directed by Massimo Introvigne, reported on a textbook episode of the terrible climate surrounding the negotiations:
The protagonist of the episode is a priest named Yan Lixin, 55, of Guangping in the province of Hebei, the leader of several communities of what is referred to as the “underground” Church, meaning that it is run by bishops who are appointed by Rome but not recognized by the Chinese authorities.
In April, the bishop of Hong Kong, Michael Yeung Ming-cheung – recognized by both Rome and Beijing, who a few days ago, on June 23, was on an “ad limina” visit with the pope – had invited Fr. Yan to his city for a public discussion precisely on the negotiations underway over the procedure for appointing future Chinese bishops.
Fr. Yan booked the flight to Hong Kong on his cellphone. And on April 9, with the same phone, he got in contact with a Japanese journalist who was also invited to the same discussion. But his phone was under surveillance, so that same evening a dozen police officers descended on his home.
The priest was arrested and held at a hotel in Handan, where he was subjected to incessant interrogation. After seven days they moved him to a different hotel, in Guangping, still under arrest. And the interrogation continued, with the main objective of forcing Fr. Yan to enroll in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
This goal is not a trivial matter. Far from it. In the 2007 letter from Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics – which is still viewed even by Pope Francis as the “magna carta” of the Church in China – the Patriotic Association is considered the foremost of those “entities that have been imposed as the principal determinants of the life of the Catholic community,” membership in which “is the criterion for declaring a community, a person or a religious place legal and therefore ‘official,’” but whose “declared purpose to implement ‘the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church’ is incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”
So then, in full fidelity to the Church, Fr. Yan refused to yield. And after twenty days in custody, on April 28, he was released, but under the requirement not to leave his region and to be traceable at all times.
Since then he has been living under strict surveillance and has had to reduce the frequency of his celebration of Mass with his communities, to avoid as much as possible putting this too in danger.
The most impatient proponents of the agreement between the Vatican and China – which would assign the designation of future bishops to the Chinese authorities, while reserving for the pope the prerogative of accepting or rejecting this – maintain that the ban on membership in the Patriotic Association is “obsolete,” and that on the contrary this should be encouraged in order to overcome any discrepancy between “official” and “underground,” and to guarantee government recognition for the latter of these as well.
But in reality, this question continues to be a serious stumbling block on the road to an agreement.
It should be sufficient to consider the unresolved case of Shanghai bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin. Made a bishop with the approval of both Rome and Beijing, on the day of his ordination, July 7 2012, he revoked his previous membership in the Patriotic Association. For this he was arrested that same day. And he remained in custody even after he retracted his dissociation in 2015 and professed public submission to the regime.
And yet, incredibly, “La Civiltà Cattolica” – the magazine directed by the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, every issue of which is printed with the pope’s authorization – recently called the episode of Ma Daqin an exemplary model of “reconciliation between the Church in China and the Chinese government.”
If this is the “reconciliation” to which the much-vaunted agreement is supposed to lead, then the criticisms of Cardinal Zen are motivated by reasons much more serious than senile fright, as he tried to explain to his Chinese readers on his blog, in a brief reply to the pope’s words, ending with a prayer that God may “not let him fall into the hands of his enemies.”
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)