Sunday, December 11, 2005

Middle-earth and the RCs

Well -- that's what the Chinese call themselves. Zhōng guó. The middle nation or country.

Anyway, hard to believe, but in about a week, I will be winging towards Asia. A week in China (visiting good friends in Beijing and Guangzhou) and another week with family in India.

Blogging will be light this week -- while I'm busy getting things in order at work, preparing for the trip, reading guidebooks, and trying to get some Chinese under my belt (more than just "Nĭ hăo" and "Tsài qièn!" -- haven't really had time to spend with this until now. Besides, what's the point of getting a lot of Mandarin down, when, after the few days in Beijing, I'll be in a Cantonese speaking area? Oh well ....), and nursing an irritating sinus infection/cold/snifflythingy.

Apart from the sightseeing (The Great Wall! Yes, so what if the expected high temperatures in Beijing are around 32 or 33F!), I want to explore the Catholic Church over there.

I've been following the news stories emerging out of China -- it just seems so schizophrenic. One day, a new auxilliary bishop is installed in Shanghai, with the approval of both the Vatican and the Chinese Government! Then, a few months later, two priests are arrested. And, as one well recalls, the Chinese bishops were not permitted to travel to participate in the recent Synod of Bishops. There's the whole question of diplatic relations with Taiwan.

The November issue of Maryknoll Magazine (not online) had a wonderful series of articles on the vitality of the Church in China -- a story on the ordination of the new auxilliary bishop of Shanghai, one on Chinese sisters and seminarians who train in the US, an interview with an artist who is designing the new stained glass windows for St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai, and profiles of the Church in Jilin. The pictures that emerges is a vibrant faith, attractive, young, self-confident and growing. Not too much is made of persecution in these articles.

A November 7 article by Betty Ann Maheu MM, a Maryknoll Sister, in the Jesuit weekly America gives an overview of the Church in China, describe the situation of religious sisters, seminarians, priests and laity, and spends a little time on the "official" versus the "underground" churches.
The very mention of the Catholic Church in China conjures up a kind of double image: of an open and an underground church. The simplistic approach to this situation goes something like this: The open church is a patriotic church loyal to the government, and not in communion with the pope or the universal church. The underground church, on the other hand, is the loyal church in communion with the Holy See and the universal church. The reality is much more complicated historically, ecclesiastically and canonically.

First of all, we must understand that there are not two Catholic Churches in China. There is only one. Pope John Paul II was always careful to speak of the church in China as one. Second, China does not have a “patriotic” Catholic Church. There is a Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is a political organization set up by the Communist Party to monitor and direct the activities of the open church.

Similar associations monitor each of China’s five approved religions. Just how freely any church operates depends almost entirely on the quality of the individuals who serve in these associations, on their motivation and their knowledge and respect for religion. Many in these organizations are there because it is a good job with steady remuneration and power. Finally, the division within the Catholic Church in China is political and not doctrinal.

The terms “open” and “underground” do not clearly describe the reality. Churches are either registered or unregistered. Government regulations require places of worship to be registered. Open, official or government-approved churches are all registered.

Underground churches are unregistered, and sites of worship that refuse to register are illegal and subject to closure and repression. Authorities in different places, however, deal very differently with both the registered and unregistered groups.

The underground church is not literally in hiding. In certain areas that I have visited, the church is large and beautiful, built in view of everyone in the middle of the city. On the other hand, in some places, it is literally on the 7th floor! In a few places the underground church is the only Catholic church in the area. In still other places people meet for Mass or prayer in people’s homes. These are the communities most vulnerable to the surveillance of the Public Security Bureau. In some open seminaries, underground bishops serve as professors. In a few places both the open and the unregistered church share the same building for services while in other places the two groups are at complete loggerheads. Still in other places a man may be a bishop in the underground church and a priest in the open church.

We in the West, who like things neatly boxed in categories, are not comfortable with this kind of ambiguity.
While we in the West might indeed be uncomfortable with non-box like things, the picture is a little confusing. I guess I used to have the simpistic view of the "true and loyal" Underground Church versus the "Politically Manipulated" official church. Guess things really aren't very clear, and the boundaries are blurred.

This Catholic online article by Sr. Jane O'Shaughnessy, of the Society of the Sacred Heart, clarifies things a little bit:
The Catholic Church suffered division initially as Catholics tried to remain faithful to the Vatican, which is seen by the Chinese government as an independent state government and, therefore, problematic for a country trying to remain autonomous. Chinese Catholics were required to submit to the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The lines are somewhat porous, and basically Catholics are said to belong to either the “open” or “underground” Catholic community.

Since this time of reopening, Pope John Paul II has been prayed for at every Mass. In February 1989, a Chinese government document allowed for “spiritual affiliation” with the Holy See. Two months later the Chinese bishops’ conference publicly acknowledged the pope as spiritual leader of the Chinese Catholic Church. Despite the tension and still unresolved difficulties within this divided Church, the faith is prospering.
Here's an interview with Msgr. Anthony Li Duan, Bishop of Xian on Asianet.
What do you think about the role of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics (PACC)?

Under present circumstances we acknowledge the existence of the Patriotic Association. If its whole purpose was to act as an association of Catholic faithful, there would be no problems with it. However, the Patriotic Association cannot act above the Church, but must be something within the Church and subordinated to the bishop.

What do you have to say about the so-called “underground Church” in China?

All Catholics in China are united under the same faith. As far as I know, the pope respects both communities and urges us toward reconciliation and unity. Some members of the underground Church say we have rebelled against the pope. I belong to the “open Church”. But I am not rebellious, since in no way whatsoever do I deny the pope’s primacy. We have the same faith and we both support the Holy Father. Hence we should join together in terms of traditional Church organization and doctrine.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation, which is a voice for the underground Church in China, takes a rather more grim (and confrontational) view of things, and more or less suggests that the "official Church" (associated with the Patriotic Association) is schismatic:
China therefore has two Churches that call themselves Catholic. One Church is founded by Christ approximately 2000 years ago. The other Church is established by atheist communists 48 years ago. One Church is under severe persecution. The other one is not. One Church is in full communion with the Pope and in full communion with the universal Church. The other one is not in communion with the Pope. One Church, of course, is the underground Roman Catholic Church. The other one is the Patriotic Association.

They are not the same Church despite the fact many people, including some Church dignitaries, advocate that they are the same.
There's Chinacatholic, a Chiense website of the Catholic Church (I can't tell if it's an official website or not), with an English section. Prayers for the Pope are quite prominently displayed.

Here's a list of estimated statistics (2004) for the Church in China. Interesting numbers!

Ah, and there is a US Catholic China Bureau (not to be confused with the other USCCB, the US Bishops' Conference!) which is a decent clearinghouse of information on the Church in China.

Here's an interesting document, a talk given in Hong Kong in 2002 called "Understanding the Roman Catholic Church in China" (pdf).

This means, I now know what reading to take with me for the flight! Some books on the Church in China. First of all will be a local scholar, Dr. James Myers (currently the director of stewardship for our Diocese; I've emailed him asking for some tips and suggestions as well), author of an early 1990s study of the Church in China: Enemies without Guns. (Hmm .... or maybe not? As it is, I'm a little nervous taking my breviary and Bible into the country! :-))

You know, it would be really cool to meet some Chinese Catholics while I'm over there. (Oh yes! Best reply to that email from A., a parishioner from Taiwan, who said he has friends in Guangzhou ... ). (My friends over there are both Indian. One is an Indian-American Zoroastrian from Bombay, who wants to settle in Vancouver. The other is an Indian Catholic, married to a Gujarati Hindu. :-D)

So --- in a nutshell: read the blog while I'm over there!

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