Future of Christians in China

Author: ZENIT


Future of Christians in China

Part 1

Interview With Italian Journalist Gerolamo Fazzini

ROME, 14 OCT. 2005 (ZENIT)

The Church in China exists among lights and shadows, said an Italian reporter who recently spent three weeks in the country meeting with priests, nuns and lay people.

Following his trip, Gerolamo Fazzini, co-editor of Mondo e Missione, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, wrote six reports, on as many Chinese cities, for the Italian Catholic episcopate's newspaper Avvenire.

In this interview with ZENIT, Fazzini shares his impressions and assesses some recent events relative to the Church in China. Part 2 appears Sunday.

Q: How do you see the situation of Christians in China? Does optimism or mistrust prevail?

Fazzini: It is difficult to make a global evaluation. The readings oscillate between the optimism of those, such as David Aikman, author of a much-discussed book, "Jesus in Beijing" — which prophesies a luminous future for Christianity in China, especially for Protestants — and the pessimism of those who see an uncertain future, even darker than the present, in light of the fact that the regime does not seem willing to take steps when it comes to religious rights.

The impression received when visiting China is that the two attitudes, hope and disillusion, coexist — just as the wheat of the Church's vitality coexists with the weeds of political control, which makes itself heard at different times and in different places — but which has not given up the pretension of governing the religious realm — and the internal tensions in the Christian communities, which are not lacking.

Q: In recent weeks there have been two news items reflecting opposite signs: the government's ban on the participation of four Chinese bishops, invited to the Synod of Bishops by Benedict XVI, and the announcement, by the superior of the Missionaries of Charity, that the government has invited Mother Teresa's religious to go to China, something long dreamed about by the founder. How should these two contradictory events be interpreted?

Fazzini: One would have to be in the control room to understand the internal dynamics of power.

I will restrict myself to observe that such contradictory and enigmatic signs confirm the fact that something is changing, although it is difficult to make predictions. Personally, I am confident, given that the one who directs history is unpredictable.

Q: Regarding Catholics in China, are there really two Churches? What is the relationship like between them?

Fazzini: It is a known fact that the situation of the Catholic Church has altogether particular features in China. There are two communities — not two Churches; the Church is the same one, that of Christ.

One is the official community, which makes reference to the Chinese Catholics' Patriotic Association [CCPA], the other is the improperly called "underground" Church, which does not recognize the CCPA's authority.

The novelty in recent times is that, on both sides, there are those who are working for reconciliation, to overcome the impasse. Not, of course, by putting a headstone on the past or forgetting the many martyrs of yesterday and today, but by seeking at the same time to emerge from a situation that risks fossilization.

Although it is true that the "underground" community is the most scourged by persecution, it must not be thought that for the official community the situation is rose-colored. The latter also suffers limitations in its activity, as is the case of any religious presence in China.

In fact, in different ways, penury of means, lack of personnel, difficulties in resisting the speed of changes of the age, which China is going through, are elements that unite the faithful of the two communities.

Beyond this, I have been able to appreciate in both communities a great desire for reconciliation and unity, despite the internal difficulties that afflict different dioceses. An agreeable surprise for me was to see members of the official community express a great affection for the Pope, and a strong love for the universal Church.

Q: In your trip to China, what impressed you most about the consecrated life of the Church?

Fazzini: The situation of women religious impressed me. Because there is virtually no talk about them yet, they are discreet and humble, but living a pledge.

I met them in Xian, in Shanghai, in Beijing, including some nuns of the region of Hebei, which is to a degree the bastion of the "underground" communities.

They wear their habits only for solemn religious celebrations; usually they wear normal, simple clothes; they could easily be confused with the local women. It is known that women religious in China cannot belong to any international order or congregation.

They all refer to a diocesan institution and depend on the local bishop. Many of them are young, they have great faith but often an inadequate formation.

Part 2

Interview With Italian Journalist Gerolamo Fazzini

ROME, 16 OCT. 2005 (ZENIT)

A major challenge for the Church in China is to educate the youth in the faith, says an Italian reporter who recently spent three weeks in that country.

Following his trip, Gerolamo Fazzini, co-editor of Mondo e Missione, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, wrote six reports for the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire.

In this interview with ZENIT, Fazzini shares his impressions of recent events relative to the Church in China. Part 1 of this interview appeared Friday.

Q: What is the most problematic aspect that the Catholic Church faces in China today?

Fazzini: It is difficult to say. One of the fundamental points is the formation of the clergy and of women religious. The long persecution of the past decades has caused enormous damages. There is an entire generation of bishops and priests missing. It is easy to imagine what this means in terms of formation.

Such a question is part of a more general problem which we could define in the implementation of the Second Vatican Council in ordinary pastoral praxis. Young people, who in the span of a few years will take the reins of the Church in China, will be one of the crucial challenges for the new bishops.

Q: China is changing at an impressive rate. Can the Church cope with the speed of change, meet the challenges that arise, and proclaim Christ to the younger generations?

Fazzini: Yes and no. In the large cities — I am thinking, for example, of Shanghai and Beijing — there is no lack of committed bishops, priests and lay people who have the necessary preparation to address the volume of challenges that are at hand. Some have studied abroad; they are able to relate to the new context.

But many others exhaust themselves trying to make sense of the world around us, for lack of adequate instruments. Going from the cities to the countryside, for example, one notes, just by looking at the Church's iconography, the profound chasm that separates the urban reality from the countryside.

The majority of lay Chinese live in rural areas, but the future will be decided increasingly in the cities. In the future, will Christianity be able to speak to the increasingly modern Chinese people? Beyond the problems connected to the public context, this seems to be the greatest challenge for the Church in China.

Q: Could you comment on the unbalanced social inequalities that exist alongside the spectacular economic development in China?

Fazzini: Indeed. Traveling through China, even only for a few weeks, as was my case, one perceives this difference. Next to the class of those who are outstanding, who are perfectly integrated in the international economic circuit, is the mass of the population, especially rural, that lives in conditions of poverty, without adequate social services.

The authorities perceive this situation: President Hu Jintao said that economic growth must go at the same pace as the struggle against disparity between the richer coastal provinces and regions of the interior, extremely poor.

Because of this, the Chinese Communist Party is about to launch a five-year plan to build a "more harmonious and stable" society. We'll see.

What is positive is the novelty that the government is realizing that it cannot guarantee a minimum level of welfare to the population and, therefore, little by little is making possible room for action, limited but real, for the NGOs. We are far from subsidiarity as we understand it, but, in any case, it is a positive sign.

Q: Often terrible news comes from China relative to the practices of "demographic control": abortions on a large scale, infanticide and forced sterilizations. What can citizens of Western countries do to help China check these phenomena?

Fazzini: That China has a problem of demographic control is plain for everyone to see. It is not enough to affirm it theoretically. When one sees the megalopolis brimming with crowds, the metropolises full to the point of disbelief, one then intuits the extent of the problem. What to do?

One can, for example, help China to identify the most appropriate ways to educate in responsible paternity and maternity. Political fantasy? Not really. Experimental programs of the Billings [Ovulation] Method [of natural family planning] was introduced successfully two years ago in some areas. Why not support its extension on a large scale, accompanying it with a campaign of education of young people?

Sadly, and mistakenly, I do not think that Western governments, in the main pro-abortion, will support this solution. Another interesting path that is opening, as regards Italy, is the international adoption of Chinese children.

Q: What can Christians do?

Fazzini: First, pray. If God is the one who moves history, he must be asked with insistence for the necessary help for our Chinese brothers and sisters. The Church in China, moreover, feels very comforted in knowing that sister Churches don't forget her.

Second, it is important to get involved, to know what is available: The instruments are not lacking, from Catholic agencies, such as ZENIT and AsiaNews to specialized reviews such as Mondo e Missione.

Fundamental, in my opinion, is the background strategy. It is necessary to express the greatest "liking" for the Chinese people, for their very rich and ancient culture, and at the same time to make it "pressing" for the authorities to change what is against human rights.

Finally, I think one must also contribute financially to support the Church in China.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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