Editorial: The Church in China
Hong Kong’s Bishop Joseph Zen regards the statement of the chief executive of the Special Autonomous Region, Tung Cheehwa, branding Falun Gong as “an evil cult” as “very alarming, not only for Falun Gong, but for all of us … I do hope that Mr Tung will amend his statements or at least accept that he owes us some assurance”, writes Bishop Zen.
The Bishop’s misgivings reflect the uncertainty of Church-State relations in China. This uncertainty springs from deep-seated Chinese suspicion of foreigners, particularly Europeans. In the 19th century and earlier, Portugal, Britain, France, Germany and the United States had trading ports and enclaves in China. Christian missionaries accompanied the traders, sharing the odium of the locals, as China was humiliated in military skirmishes and unequal treaties, forced to pay indemnities and otherwise exploited. The odium lingers on, hindering Church ministry today.
From 1492 to 1950 the Church followed an expansionist model of mission. This was followed by one of solidarity or accompaniment as former missions matured into Churches. However, the Communist government expelled all foreign missionaries, suppressing and interfering in Church activity and resulting in the split that exists today. So the model of reconciliation now seems the most appropriate.
Reconciliation cannot be achieved without nurturing trust. This applies to any pastoral situation. If missionaries would be bearers, teachers, preachers of the Good News, they must first be Good News themselves. They show by their companionship and love that a foreigner can, indeed, be a friend. And there are few people quicker to respond to friendship than Chinese people. Missionaries these days establish an easy, friendly atmosphere of pre-evangelisation, by being Gospel people themselves. This is an example.
A recent news item tells us of a Catholic medical mission. Jinin Province in China is opening its doors to a Catholic Order that will work with terminally ill patients. Entry to China is by invitation. Korean Br Thadu Kang, of the Hospitaller Order of St John of God, has been invited by the local health authorities to open a centre for cancer patients, the neediest of the Province of Jinin. The officials said that every year 3,000 people get cancer in the city of Yanji, 1,000 of whom are poor and have no prospects of obtaining treatment.
Br Thadu Kang will be joined next month by Irish Br Brendan Flahive and, soon after, by three more religious brothers – one Korean and two Vietnamese – who will help to train Chinese nurses.
The invitation was extended after a meeting two years ago, when Br Flahive, a nurse who specialises in the palliative care of cancer patients, contacted the health authorities in nine hospitals of the Jinin Province, including the Yanji oncology centre.
Chinese health representatives visited the St John of God Centre for terminally ill cancer patients in the Korean city of Kwangju, and were so impressed that they asked the brothers to open a similar facility in China.
The brothers will not be able to exercise any public preaching or teaching ministry; but their ministry is to the sick and they will witness to the faith in that way. They will be able to pray in their religious community, and with the sick and their relatives, if the latter request this explicitly.
They will be able to go to Mass in churches of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is a political-social organisation, rather than a Church properly speaking. Its priests are validly ordained, even if some of the bishops’ ordinations were illicit because they were not approved by Rome. This troubles many of them. Bishops like this are comforted by the attitude of the Holy Father who makes no distinction between members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and ‘unofficial’ Catholics (those not attending an ‘open’ church, registered by the government).
Bishop John Tong, Auxiliary Bishop of Hong Kong, tells a touching story of an open Church bishop, who, when Bishop Tong was in his city, paid him an unexpected visit. He said he had accepted his appointment under government pressure. He tried to get the Pope’s approval, but did not succeed. He wanted reconciliation with the Holy Father. He wept as he spoke. He said he always prayed for the Pope; believed without picking and choosing. “I am happy to tell you he is still alive and in full communion with the Universal Church and, like the Prodigal Son, reconciled with his father. He is blessed with having many seminarians and young sisters in his diocese,” writes Bishop Tong.
An ‘unofficial’ (validly ordained but unregistered) priest told Bishop Tong: “We need your prayers. We also hope you don’t do anything to increase the government’s pressure on us.”