Pope Francis beatified Pope Paul VI on 19 October 2014, and canonized him on 14 October 2018. We rejoice! Pope Paul loved China and always cared about the Church in China.
Appreciation of the Catholics in China
On 20 October 1963, on the anniversary of the consecration of the first six Chinese bishops in 1926, Pope Paul VI wrote a letter to Propaganda Fide (now the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples) in which he said:
The consecration of the first six Chinese bishops is still well remembered; it came about at the hand of our predecessor, Pius XI, and was echoed in the world by a universal consensus (Papal Documents Related to China 1937-2005
[PDRC], compiled by E. Wurth. Hong Kong: Holy Spirit Study Centre, 2006, p.142).
Our Holy Father did not forget his brethren in difficulty and took this opportunity to appeal to the Chinese government:
Recalling such consoling facts, which stand out as being milestones in a slow, age-long march, fills us with concern for the present condition of the Catholic Church in China…, while our thoughts go to those bishops, priests and faithful with the exhortation to serene steadfastness even in the hour of trials, we implore the rulers to consider with an equitable eye these children of ours, as their being Catholic does in no way diminish the loyalty of their love for the country: in fact, as we said previously, belonging to the Church, far from weakening, strengthens and confirms the relationship of the citizens with their own country, making them guarantors and responsibly engaged for its security, its peace and its true progress (ibid.).
On 31 August 1966 during the Wednesday general audience, Pope Paul VI cited three examples of the vitality of the Church. He said,
The second episode comes from today's
L'Osservatore Romano. News has reached Rome that in a labour camp of Kiangxi, continental China, a Chinese priest K'iam Lau-mai-chung, from the Swatow diocese died about two months ago. Born in 1915, he was sent to a labour camp, where he died after 11 years of hardships accepted in a Christian manner.
This could seem a sign of death and not of life for the Church. But is it not possible that this suffering and this martyrdom is instead the seed of a future rebirth of Catholicism in that immense country so dear to us? (PDRC, p.153)
Father Lau (劉美忠) graduated from the Regional Seminary for South China in Hong Kong in 1943 and was ordained a priest in the same year. He returned to serve the Swatow diocese before he moved to Shanghai to teach in 1948. In 1953, he returned to Swatow and was imprisoned by the local government.
In 1970 Bishop John Walsh, MM, the last detained Catholic foreign missionary in China, was released by the Chinese Government.
The 79-year-old bishop travelled to the Vatican and was received by Pope Paul on 25 August 25 1970. The Holy Father told the bishop,“We know that your sufferings have not been in vain, but that they are like seeds of Christian virtue that will grow up in God's good time” (PDRC, p.163).
Bringing healing to Catholics in China
Pope Paul VI, left, with Bishop Francis Hsu at Government Stadium
In June 1978, in the last summer of his life, Pope Paul VI approved the
Faculties and Privileges granted by the Sacred Congregation of the Evangelisation of Peoples to Clergy and Catholics living in mainland China. These special faculties allowed the Catholic community to enjoy canonical privileges where religious expressions were not free.
They greatly contributed to the recovery of the Catholic Church in China after the tragedy of the Cultural Revolution. All the special faculties granted to the Church in China were revoked in May 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI in his papal letter to Chinese Catholics.
Special faculties and privileges granted to Catholics in China in 1978
The special faculties and privileges contain dispensations from certain rules concerning the sacraments, for example, Holy Eucharist. In cases of extreme necessity, a priest may offer Mass without wearing vestments. He can use ordinary wine or, if this is not convenient, “original” grape juice.
Confession: Any priest who is in communion with the Church can hear the confession of any Catholic from any diocese.
The Sacrament of the Sick: If the head of a diocese is not present, a priest may bless the oil of any plant to be used for the anointing of sick people.
Special attention should be paid to Paragraph No. 7 of the Special Faculties, pertaining to Holy Orders:
The bishop can choose an intelligent and charitable male Catholic, strong in the faith, loyal to the successor of St. Peter, one who has a correct knowledge of Catholic doctrine—this would be the case of a person who does not have a formal theological education—and if such a person is willing to lead a life of celibacy, the bishop may ordain him as a priest so that he can serve the Church and the Catholics.
With this special arrangement, many young men could be recruited to serve the Church as Catholic priests to ease the shortage of priesthood.
Call for dialogue with China
Pope Paul VI always cared about China and the Church in China. He sent this message in June 1963, right after his election as pope, to the Chinese leaders. He wrote:
To belong to the Church does not weaken the love of the Chinese Catholic for the country; on the contrary, it reinforces it and makes the Catholics participate in a spirit of responsibility for the security, the peace and progress of the country. The Church does not want to dominate, but to serve (PDRC, p.141).
On 31 December 1965, Pope Paul sent a telegram to Chairman Mao Zedong of China which read:
The prestige enjoyed by China today attracts the attention of the whole world. We beg you to welcome this appeal and these wishes, which we formulate before God for the whole Chinese people at the beginning of the New Year (PDRC, p.152).
The pontiff's special care for the Hong Kong diocese
On 6 January 1966, a young seminarian, John Tong, from Hong Kong was ordained by Pope Paul VI as a priest. Father Tong was made an auxiliary bishop for the Hong Kong diocese in 1996 and bishop of Hong Kong in 2009. Eventually he was made a cardinal in 2012.
Before that, Pope Paul had also ordained Father Philip Chan (陳子殷) as a priest for the diocese.
On 4 December 1970 Pope Paul made a whirlwind, three-hour visit to Hong Kong and local Catholics waved the Vatican flag to welcome him.
Accompanied by Bishop Francis Hsu, Pope Paul walked on the grounds of Government Stadium to greet and bless the local Catholic community. Here, Pope Paul became the only pope to ever celebrate the Eucharist on Chinese soil.
The pope celebrated the Mass in English, as the congregation responded in Chinese. (Sunday Examiner, 12 December 1970, p.16) According to participants, the parts in Chinese were in Cantonese, the local language in Hong Kong.
His Holiness began the Mass with the following declaration:
It is with joy that we have accepted the gracious invitation extended to us by your zealous shepherd, our brother, Bishop Hsu. We are pleased to take the occasion of the apostolic journey that has brought us to Asia and Australia for meetings with the episcopal conferences to make a visit, howsoever brief, to the largest Chinese diocese in the world. We are very happy to be with you, dear sons and daughters of Hong Kong (Sunday Examiner, 12 December 1970, p.16).
Before he departed, Pope Paul gave the Hong Kong diocese some very valuable gifts including his ring, pectoral cross, chalice and pastoral staff.
All these were on display 26 on October 2014 when the diocese celebrated the Eucharist for his beatification at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.