Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Cross and the Star

[Bishop Jin Luxian. Image from the Atlantic website.]


So I finally got around to reading the article by Adam Minter in the latest Atlantic Monthly on Catholicism in China, which I'd mentioned last week on here. (Jen Ambrose, who lives in the PRC, left a comment indicating she liked what she'd read. Two posts at her blog on the Atlantic piece, including a link to the blog of the author of the piece, where he says he'll be posting left-over bits from his research. I think the full text is available to subscribers only. I have a pdf if anyone is interested, just email me for a copy. The web-only interview with the author is, I think, available to all. It is also a must-read and deveops some strands that couldn't be explored in the main article.) Minter profiles Bishop Jin Luxian of Shanghai a member of the Society of Jesus, ordained a bishop in the "official" Church, who has helped shape Catholicism in the People's Republic over the course of the last half-century.

It's a well-written piece, fair (the only factual inaccuracies that I noticed with respect to Catholicism were minor, such as saying that Pope John Paul had written many "encyclicals" addressing the situation in China, when the more accurate word would have been "documents") and presents a fascinating tale that really clarifies the complexities and tragedies of the ground reality of the Church in modern China, while giving a brief historical overview of the arrival of Catholicism in China, the situation in the early 20th century, the changes since the events of 1949 and then the Cultural Revolution. Here are a few snippets.
On a June day in 1982, Father Aloysius Jin Luxian, a 66-year-old Jesuit just released from prison, walked into Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral for the first time in 27 years. In his youth, the building had been one of the great churches in East Asia, celebrated for its delicate Gothic arches and colorful stained glass. Now the color was gone, replaced by clear glass and harsh sunlight that bleached the cracked columns and tiled floor. The steeples, once among the tallest in Shanghai, were missing, as was the altar beneath which he’d been ordained, in 1945. Jin had spent nearly three decades under house arrest, in reeducation camps, and in prison, so he had few illusions about the Chinese Communist Party’s attitude toward religion. But the damage to the church was still hard to bear. St. Ignatius, he learned, had been converted to a grain warehouse during the Cultural Revolution, and the authorities had spent three days burning most of the diocese’s Catholic books in front of the church.

Now services were being held again. But open prayers for the pope were strictly prohibited, and scant mention of the holy father could be found in any of the crudely printed books used in the cathedral. Mass was still in Latin, unintelligible to most Chinese. The current bishop had been ordained without approval from Rome, by a Communist government determined to erase the memory of Shanghai’s still-incarcerated bishop, Ignatius Kung (Gong) Pin-mei. Everything was under the direct control of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the 25-year-old government agency that oversaw Chinese Catholic life.

Yet on Saturday nights, the church was packed, its pews filled with 2,500 or more parishioners. Morning Mass wasn’t quite as crowded, but it happened, and regularly. Elsewhere in Shanghai, four more Catholic churches were holding services, and they, too, were packed on Saturday nights. All these parishioners were attended to by 60 elderly priests, who’d submitted to living together in a single house, under strict CPA supervision, because they were determined to live openly as Catholic priests.
[snip]
Though largely unknown outside of China, Jin is arguably the most influential and controversial figure in Chinese Catholicism of the last 50 years. He played a leading role in persuading the authorities to allow a prayer for the pope to be said during Masses in China’s registered, or “open,” churches and in developing a Chinese-language liturgy, and he was single-handedly responsible for training more than 400 priests—including several who became Vatican-recognized bishops—in Shanghai’s seminary. He’s also been an unabashed supporter of dialogue and compromise with the Communist government. He accepted ordination as a bishop without Vatican approval and has taken a leading role in China’s open churches, all of which still have to register with the Religious Affairs Bureau and are overseen by bishops appointed by the CPA in consultation with local congregations.

Defying canon law, as Jin has done on several occasions, is no small matter for a Catholic bishop. But Rome has tolerated his disobedience, largely because of what he’s accomplished in Shanghai. From his modern office, Jin looks out over a diocese that includes 141 registered churches, 74 priests (most under the age of 40), 86 nuns, 83 seminarians, and 150,000 laypeople. In Shanghai, at least, there’s been a significant rapprochement between the underground Church and the open one, particularly on the leadership level: Jin is the most prominent Chinese open-Church bishop who recognizes, albeit quietly, the authority of the pope.
There's this interesting paragraph about the contents of the upcoming letter to Chinese Catholics from Pope Benedict (I'd heard itw as to be released around Easter but that hasn't happened ... )
Leaked reports and the impressions of a source close to the drafting of the letter suggest that it will call, as John Paul II did, for reconciliation between the open and underground churches, and focus largely on pastoral concerns. Ultimately, it’s expected to portray China’s Catholics as largely united after a half century and to acknowledge that any diplomatic solution will need to accommodate both the vitality of the open Church and the struggles of the underground one.
And here's something those who are clamoring for the Tridentine Mass might (or might not) want to read :)
Soon after their arrival, the priests began preparing the seminarians to say Mass in the vernacular, and on September 30, 1989, the first Chinese-language Mass was celebrated in Shanghai. Father Joseph Zen, a Shanghai native and now the cardinal archbishop of Hong Kong, was the celebrant. The risk was significant: China’s religious authorities reserved the right to approve changes to the liturgy, and they’d long preferred Latin, largely because it couldn’t be understood by most Chinese.
Bishop Jin, it seems, has been responsible for the translation of the liturgy into Chinese. There's also the cooperation with Protestants ...
Initially at least, there was little to suggest that the seminary was Catholic. Without Vatican support, Jin had to look elsewhere for books and Bibles. “I had to go to Protestants,” he says. That set a precedent, and though he says he tries to obtain support and funding from Roman Catholic organizations whenever possible, since the early 1980s the Shanghai diocese has received significant funding for religious publishing and book purchases from non-Catholic Christian organizations sympathetic to his desire “to proclaim the word of God.”
Overall there emerges this portrait of a deeply prayerful and courageous man, deeply concerned about the survival of the Church and the welfare of his flock, a concern that lead him to work with the totalitarian regime, rather than follow the path of confrontation and criticism taken by Cardinal Kung and, to a lesser extent, by Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong (both of whom are somewhat unfavorably contrasted with Jin in the article). It was a path that also brought him under a cloud of suspicion in Rome, one that has only recently been lifted.

A must-read piece. And here's a snippet from the interview.
Speaking of international Catholics in Shanghai: How different is it to practice religion in China than elsewhere? What’s different, for example, about a Catholic Mass in Shanghai?

Nothing. That’s what’s so interesting about it. They have the same Mass American Catholics do; the same sacraments. And that is precisely what Jin wanted to establish. It’s perhaps his most important legacy. He feels it’s a real accomplishment to have set things up in Shanghai and elsewhere in China such that the Catholic sacraments are available to whoever wants them. You can go to Mass on Saturday night; you can go to Mass on Sunday morning. And those Masses are not going to be any different from Masses in the United States or in Europe—except that they’ll be in Chinese, of course. That’s not to say that there’s no local character to the Masses here. But at the end of the day, a Mass is a Mass. That comes as a tremendous surprise to expats here. Even in Shanghai, they’re shocked.

Why do you think that is?

I’ve given that some thought. One of the reasons, I think, is that non-Chinese—particularly Europeans and Americans—have ascribed a very different narrative to what’s happened here since 1949. The West still views China as existing in the same state of things as it did in 1949. They think, China in 1949 vs. 1970? It’s all just a Communist (capital “C”) state. But that’s not really accurate anymore; China’s a very different place today.

A second reason really has to do with simplicity. Most people in the U.S. don’t have much interest in Chinese Catholics, and so a very simple story about an underground loyal to Rome, and a “Patriotic Church” loyal to the Communist Party, suffices. Of course, the actual story—the more complicated one—can’t be explained in a single sentence, or even a single paragraph. So it goes missing.

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