Card Parolin: Like PIME missionaries, the Vatican seeks dialogue with China

At the conference on “The other China” marking the 150th anniversary of the presence of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in China, the Vatican Secretary of State highlighted the “ecclesial and pastoral” value of the Sino-Vatican Agreement, which touches only episcopal appointments, and is a “starting point” to face the “many other problems” experienced by the Church in China. The Agreement already helps the Church in China to reconcile and contributes to “an international horizon of peace”.

by Bernardo Cervellera

10/03/2020, 14.14

Milan (AsiaNews) – The Vatican seeks dialogue with China just as much as the missionaries of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) have done in China for the past 150 years, said the Vatican Secretary of State Card Pietro Parolin in his address at the conference held today at the PIME centre on the topic The other China to mark 150 years of PIME presence in the Middle Kingdom.

The cardinal defended the Sino-Vatican Agreement, whose renewal is pending, for its “ecclesial and pastoral” value despite the discussions and criticism over it because it guarantees the communion of Chinese bishops with the Pope and allows for a common commitment to world-wide peace.

The prelate noted that the Agreement only touches episcopal appointments and that the Holy See is aware that the Chinese Church has “many other problems” that will need to be addressed in the future. The Agreement, he explained, is “a starting point”.

At the beginning of his presentation, the cardinal said that the Agreement the Holy See signed two years ago with the People’s Republic of China has “ancient roots” of dialogue, which go back to Matteo Ricci. “It is the continuation of a journey that began a long time ago” which the “Italians” were able to “universalise” by entering other cultures with respect and love, something that is not foreign.

Describing various stages that mark a century and a half of history, thanks to the contributions of Frs Piero Gheddo, Angelo Lazzarotto, Giancarlo Politi and others, the cardinal mentioned the evangelising resolve of PIME missionaries in the late 19th century, and their attempt to distance themselves from the Western powers that dominated the life of Chinese communities for political reasons, especially by influencing their leaders.

Card Parolin cited Fr Paolo Manna who eagerly sought to develop Chinese Church leaders, Fr Tacconi’s work at reconciling warrying warlords, and Mgr Simeone Volonteri’s suggestion of establishing diplomatic relations between the Chinese Empire and the Holy See. This “prophetic” work led to Benedict XV’s apostolic letterMaximum Illud, the plenary council (synod) of Shanghai, and the ordination of the first Chinese bishops.

The cardinal then outlined the problems that arose with the Communist takeover in 1949, such as the nationalist choice of some bishops, the condemnation of communism by Pius XII, and the expulsion of foreign missionaries, seen as “as an expression of ‘imperialist aggression’.”

The Chinese Church, placed in the hands of a local clergy and bishops, sought ways to develop in the new situation, working with the authorities producing “neither schisms nor apostasy”. Most members of the clergy and bishops rejected the triple autonomy movement, which led the Chinese to view the Catholic Church as anti-patriotic.

The cardinal quoted extensively from Pius XII (Apostolic LetterCupimus inprimis, 18 January 1952) who reaffirms the Church’s great esteem for China, stressing that she does not want to be in the “service of any one power” and that Catholics “are second to none in terms of love of country”. He pointed out that these words are very similar to the many appeals made by John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis on being” good Catholics “and” good citizens”.

However, “patriotic” pressure prevailed, starting the “illegitimate ordinations”. Yet, Card Parolin explained that the foundations laid by the missionaries in the life of the Chinese Church have remained faithful to tradition.

Although “some pastors’ under the pressure of particular circumstances consented to episcopal ordination without the papal mandate,” at their later request, “the Pope, considering the sincerity of their sentiments and the complexity of the situation, [. . .], granted them the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction “(seeLetter of Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics, n. 8).

In fact, it was only with the Sino-Vatican Agreement, signed on 22 September 2018, that full communion of all Chinese bishops with the Pope was re-established.

“In the last seventy years, many difficult battles have been lost,” Card Parolin said. “Sometimes, some battles were lost but could have been won if only there had been a little more good will. But the most important battle has been won: fidem servare”.  This happened by “the grace of God”, the faith of “Chinese Catholics”, and the help “of missionaries”. Undoubtedly, “the Catholic community, who in the last seventy years lived in China without missionaries, is the daughter of their work.”

Speaking about the present, Card Parolin highlighted the urgency of a “dialogue between the Catholic Church and Chinese authorities”, which the Church has been seeking since the early 1950s and which only now, with the Sino-Vatican Agreement, seems to have begun. This constitutes “a starting point”.

The cardinal tried to allay certain “misunderstandings” over certain interpretations of the document. “The Agreement of 22 September 2018 touches exclusively episcopal appointments. I am aware of the existence of many other problems concerning the life of the Catholic Church in China. But it was not possible to tackle them all together and we know that the path to full normalisation will still be long, as Benedict XVI predicted in 2007. However, the question of episcopal appointments is of particular importance. It is in fact the problem that has made the Catholic Church in China suffer the most in the last sixty years.”

He noted that “until two years ago,” the “possibility of new illegitimate ordinations remained real and that until a few years ago, new Chinese bishops were illegitimately ordained.” Now this problem has been solved “definitively”.

For this reason, “the Agreement’s objective is above all ecclesial and pastoral” to “help local Churches enjoy conditions of greater freedom, autonomy and organisation, so that they can devote themselves to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and contributing to the integral development of people and society.”

After noting that the Agreement could favour – as Francis wishes – the internal reconciliation of the Church, Card Parolin highlighted another goal, namely “the consolidation of an international horizon of peace at a time in which we are experiencing so many global tensions.”

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