Waiting for the words of the Holy Father [ERR/2007/01/29]
by Fr. Gianni Criveller
There is beautiful news in the press release (January 21, 2007) of the Holy See after the ‘special two day meeting ’ on the Church in China. The Holy Father will write a letter to Chinese Catholics. We, who support the Church in China, are united with all Catholics in China, and we will accept the words, desires, directives and decisions with total adherence of heart and mind. We would like to thank the Pope for his attention and love toward the Church in China. After he speaks, all our words and actions will have one end: to implement the Holy Father's wishes for the good of the Church in China.
At the moment, we do not know when the papal letter will be released; neither are we able to anticipate its content. We are, therefore, still in a period of free debate. In a spirit of respect and loyalty toward the Holy See, I offer the following reflections:
I was struck positively by the explicit reference to the suffering of many bishops, priests and faithful who have maintained a clear and steadfast loyalty to the Catholic faith and the Holy See. For the first time, the Holy See also recognized publicly and explicitly that the great majority of bishops from the official Church are in communion with the Holy Father. In my opinion these words have enormous symbolic value: they are a declaration of the failure of the Chinese regime's religious policies, after trying for decades to create a national Church independent of Rome.
The reference to the divine constitution of the Church is the keynote of the statement: the Church is governed by bishops, the apostles' successors, in communion with Peter, their head. The Church in China instead is still subjected to the control of an association directed by a political party and manipulated by certain high official. They persist in carrying out an incredible amount of injustices against Catholics. They, in fact, had great responsibility for the illegitimate consecrations in 2000 and 2006, which created profound divisions and conflicts within the Catholic communities.
The press statement of the Holy See seems to stop short of severely denouncing this serious abuse. I also find it inadequate to define the conflict with government authorities as ‘misunderstandings of the past.’ This is politically correct language, that would legitimately enhance the diplomatic dialogue. But victims and oppressors should not be put on the same level, and truth, as Benedict XVI insists, should always be honored.
I find it too optimistic to describe as ‘surprising’ the growth of the Catholic community in China. The Catholic community is growing, especially in certain areas such as Hebei, but, generally speaking, the growth is quite slow. If we compare the ratio between the numbers of the Catholic and the general population in 1949 (4 million out of 540 million) and today (12 million out of 1.32 billion), we see that the growth is not exceptional, only from 0.74% to 0.91%. On the other hand, the Protestants communities have grown in an amazing fashion (they were not even 1 million, but now are almost thirty million).
The Holy Father has all the necessary information to write to the Catholics in China. He can help us face the principle problems of this Church. At the moment, in my estimation, the most urgent problems are: evangelization (above all of the young); the challenge of secularization; the choice of new bishops (often very young); formation (of bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful); unity (there are too many divisions in the Chinese Church, even within the underground communities and official communities); freedom from the control of the Patriotic Association and its aging leaders, who always seem to occupy the central stage.
I am sure that the Chinese Catholics will receive the Pope’s words with devotion and gratitude. They will receive them with total adherence of heart and mind, whichever community they belong to.