China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2008/Oct
The Year of St. Paul and the local Churches in China
On June 28, while celebrating vespers in St. Paul’s basilica, Pope Benedict XVI, accompanied by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and representatives of the Orthodox and Anglican Churches, launched the Pauline Year with its unique ecumenical dimension.
The Pauline Year was announced a year earlier and planned as part of the celebrations of St. Paul’s bi-millenary birthday, running from 28 June 2008 until 29 June 2009, and consists – in the pope’s words – of “a series of liturgical, cultural and ecumenical events as well as pastoral and social initiatives inspired by St. Paul’s spirituality.
“Paul is not a figure of the past that we remember with veneration. He is also our teacher, an apostle and a herald of Jesus Christ for us, too… His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of God’s love on his heart. And so this same faith is love for Jesus Christ.”
The Year of St. Paul aims to encourage local Church communities around the world to read and reflect on the apostle as model of deep spirituality and strong commitment to evangelisation. How are the local Churches in China responding to the challenge?
Response in China
On June 17, the China Bishops’ College and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association issued the Announcement of the Celebration of the Year of St. Paul:
“… In response to the initiatives for the Year of St. Paul carried out by the universal Church, the two Catholic organisations in China, the Bishops’ College and the Patriotic Association announce and propose the following initiatives:
1. To foster the activity of reading the bible and especially the Letters of St. Paul: The great bible scholar, St. Jerome has already underlined: “Ignorance of the bible is ignorance of Christ!” From it we can draw a similar sentence: “Those who do not read carefully the letters of Paul, are ignorant of the apostle Paul”. Therefore, in order to thoroughly and deeply understand this great apostle, we must read his letters with attention. Consequently, every diocese and parish during the year must try its best to foster the initiative of reading them; every theological seminary and convent should provide the occasions to read the bible and in particular, Paul’s writings, in order to gain meaningful inspiration for their spiritual life and evangelisation commitment.
2. To increase activities for evangelisation: During the whole Pauline Year, we should imitate the apostle Paul’s strong and hopeful ambition of spreading the gospel: every diocese should take positive action. Every bishop, priest, seminarian, sister and lay person should deepen the awareness of their evangelising duty, increase their zeal for evangelisation and more actively share this great mission of spreading the gospel. Through these efforts, a greater number of people can know and believe in Christ, a greater number of our compatriots can enjoy the grace of the gospel. Every diocese should draw a concrete evangelisation plan according to its practical conditions.
3. Every diocese can organise courses for deepening the faith of the laity and for training catechists. In order to obtain better results from evangelisation work, it is necessary to continue providing formation for the faithful, suggesting the most important points in the bible and especially Paul’s letters, which deal with all aspects of the apostolate, evangelisation and morality, that are the foundation of the theology of the Church, a collection of the instructions of the Church. A complete and deep knowledge of Paul’s letters will help to bring about an understanding, as well as present solutions to all problems facing the process of evangelisation. Further reflection and experimentation are required when facing concrete problems in doing this work.
4. To hold mission sending ceremonies, in which people are sent to evangelise. Like Jesus sent out his disciples in his time, similarly, the mature diocese and parish should have these mission sending ceremonies. They can feature lay Catholics who have acquired adequate training and have a strong evangelising spirit.
5. To organise talks, conferences and sharing sessions. Through these initiatives, a deeper and detailed investigation of Paul’s theological thoughts, spiritual guidance and evangelising methods can be achieved… so that everyone, especially the clergy, can benefit and everybody can raise their level of spiritual cultivation…
6. A plenary indulgence can be acquired for one’s benefit and for the benefit of dead relatives and friends, on the following conditions: receive the sacrament of reconciliation with a truly repentant heart, receive holy communion and pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, have a firm resolve to give up all past sins and mistakes, go before the altar and pray with a sincere heart the Our Father and the Creed, asking in faith for the intercession of Mother Mary and of St. Paul…” (中国天主教, Catholic Church in China, 2008, 4, pp. 4-5)
In a northern country parish
On August 27, the Wu’an parish of the Handan diocese, Hebei (河北邯鄲武安), published the following Proposal for Evangelisation in the Year of St. Paul:
“During the Pauline Year, may we, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, raise our consciousness for evangelisation, enkindle our zeal to spread the gospel, take up our mission of evangelising and building up the Church, open our ears and mouth, hasten our feet in spreading the gospel, courageously give witness to Christ, spread the salvation of the Lord to all the corners of Wu’an, open up a new evangelising phase during the Year of St. Paul.”
The text continues with these practical suggestions:
“Live the Year of St. Paul well and receive the plenary indulgence; imitate St. Paul and spread the gospel; clarify the objective and carry out the mission; read the bible and improve oneself; give witness to Christ and serve the Church; love the Lord with a sincere heart, love the Church as your family; attend Holy Mass and pray constantly; make use of different ways to spread the gospel.” (信德报, Faith, 2 August 2008)
On August 30, Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian (金魯賢) of Shanghai, released a pastoral letter for the Year of St. Paul, in which he expressed his hopes that local Catholics will model themselves on St. Paul.
Since March, the diocese has been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Catholicism in this eastern part of China.
The pastoral letter is divided into eight sections: Who is Paul? Appearance of Paul; Characteristics of Paul; the Chosen Instrument; the Legacy of Saint Paul; Paul’s Theological Thoughts; Paul’s Core Thinking; Paul and Christ; and a Conclusion.
In his conclusion, Bishop Jin mentions three personal images he hopes will be imprinted in the minds of priests, religious sisters and lay people, as ways of modelling themselves after the saint.
The first is of Paul in his later years, when he was imprisoned, but his thoughts roamed freely. Bishop Jin noted that this epitomises the saint’s thinking.
The second, conveying the love of Paul, is of his being struck down by a flash of light on the road to Damascus and converting from a persecutor of Christians to a believer who proclaimed God to all.
The third, of the saint in travelling around the Mediterranean area, centres on his utterance: “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” This, said the bishop, epitomises St. Paul’s guiding motivation.
Bishop Jin also noted the relevance of the saint’s urgency in evangelisation when applied to today’s world – and particularly to Shanghai. (UCA News, 3 August 2008)
On July 3, the feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church, Jilin City (吉林), five young priests were ordained for the diocese by Bishop Damas Zhang Hanmin (張翰民). This brought vitality to the Church in northeastern China. At the same time, the bishop declared the opening of the Pauline Year.
During the ordination Mass, diocesan chancellor Father John Baptist Zhang Yinzhong (張銀忠) read out the bishop’s pastoral letter for the special year, dated June 28. The bishop urged Catholics to help their brothers and sisters in faith, who no longer go to church, to return to the fold. He also asked members of Catholic families to evangelise each another through activities such as praying together daily.
The bishop encouraged them to learn from St. Paul’s courage and zeal to evangelise and preach the gospel. Father Zhang thought the ordination Mass a good occasion to launch the Pauline Year, because it gathered all priests, religious sisters, seminarians and lay leaders together.
In Yinchuan, Ningxia (寧夏銀川)
During a ceremony, 96-year-old Bishop John Liu Jingshan (劉静山) and two priests explained the meaning of the Year of St. Paul.
The three main initiatives of the Yinchuan diocese for the coming year are:
1. The opening ceremony of the Year of St. Paul with a solemn concelebration on 29 June 2008.
2. Every two months, on the first Sunday of the month, a special theme is proposed which should be explained on all the other Sundays: July-August 2008: Evangelisation; September-October 2008: Catechesis; November-December 2008: The bible; January-February 2009: Liturgy; March-April 2009: Prayer and spirituality; May-June 2009: Mary and the Church months;
3. The closing ceremony with a solemn concelebration, to be held on June 29, 2009. (信德网 Faith website, June 29)
Several other local Churches in China also are organising special activities for the Pauline Year and show quite a positive attitude in taking advantage of this time for strengthening the faith and the evangelising spirit of the Catholic communities in the footsteps of St. Paul.