China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2011/Jan

A painful turn for the worse in 2010

As 1914 began, the world was at peace and the global capitalist economy was growing. While there was tension between two sets of allied nations in Europe, no one expected a big war. Earlier crises had been successfully defused. All the nations involved had normal diplomatic relations. They exchanged telegrammes and face-to-face messages through diplomats. Yet an assassination on June 28 led to war a month later.

The elderly Pope St. Pius X wept on his deathbed. People asked, “Why is the pope crying? This war will be over in a few weeks, and our side will win a glorious victory, of course.” To everyone’s surprise, World War I lasted over four years. In the following decades, authors in different countries wrote 5,000 books in various languages trying to explain what went wrong during the July Crisis.

As 2011 begins, Sino-Holy See relations have not deteriorated to the point of open warfare, but the events of late 2010 have brought tears to many eyes. Someday people will write books about those divisive incidents. The following few words can only hint at the problems.

The first 10 months went well

While every year sees some unofficial Church personnel being detained, the pressure from the authorities was not unusually strong until the end of the year.

Two elderly bishops passed away: retired Bishop Raymond Wang Chonglin (王寵林) of Zhaoxian, Hebei (河北趙县), on February 2 at age 89; and Bishop Yang Shudao (楊樹道) of the unofficial community in Fuzhou, Fujian (福建福州), on August 28 at age 91. Most of the old bishops have already gone to their rest, so there probably will not be many funerals in 2011.

Three bishops had a change of status without ordination: Bishop Matthias Du Jiang (杜江), who was clandestinely ordained in 2004, was officially installed as bishop of Bameng (Shaanba 巴盟陝垻), Inner Mongolia, on April 8. Yet the participation of illicitly ordained Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin (馬英林) of Kunming (昆明), caused worries and discontent among priests of Bameng; and 60-year-old former unofficial Bishop Francis An Shuxin (安樹新) was officially installed as the bishop of Baoding (河北保定) on August 7, causing more confusion and speculation over the bishop’s role and the Holy See. Eighty-four-year old Bishop Zhu Weifang (朱维芳), also formerly with the unofficial community, was officially installed as the bishop of Wenzhou (浙江温州) on December 23.

Remembering Father Matteo Ricci

The pioneering missionary of inculturation in China is still remembered after 400 years. Numerous events were held to celebrate the contributions of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci (1562-1611).

On 24 January 2010, the cause for his beatification reopened in his home diocese of Macerata, Italy. The long Chinese Rites Controversy put Ricci’s beatification on the shelf centuries ago. That was the least of the problems caused by the Rites Controversy. No one wants to see a repeat of that protracted struggle between Rome and Beijing.

Macerata is a small diocese, yet it made a great effort to sponsor seminars in his memory. The diocese and the regional government of Macerata sponsored a Matteo Ricci exhibition which went on tour for several months to Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai and finally Macau. In April, Fu Jen University in Taiwan also hosted a seminar on Ricci.

A record number of bishops ordained

Ten bishops were ordained with the approval of both the Holy See and the Chinese government: Bishop Paul Meng Qinglu (孟清彔), 47-years-old , of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia (呼和浩特), on April 18; (2) Bishop Shen Bin (沈斌), aged 40, of Haimen, Jiangsu (江蘇海門), on April 21; (3) 44-year-old Bishop Cai Bingru (蔡炳瑞), of Xiamen, Fujian (福建夏門), on May 8; (4) Bishop Joseph Han Yingjin (韓英進), 52-years-old, of San-yuan, Shaanxi (陝西三原) on June 24; (5) Bishop Anthony Xu Jiwei (徐吉偉), aged 75, (the only senior to be ordained) of Taizhou, Zhejiang (浙江台州), on July 10; (6) Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting (楊曉亭), who is 46-years-old, of Yan’an, Shaanxi (陝西延安), on July 14; (7) 47-year-old Bishop Paul Meng Ningyou (孟寧友), of Taiyuan, Shanxi (山西太原) on September 16; (8) Bishop Peter Wu Junwei (武俊维), 47-years-old, of Yuncheng (Xinjiang), Shanxi (山西新絳/運城) on September 21; (9) Bishop John Baptist Li Suguang (李酥光), aged 45, of Jiangxi (Nanchang) (江西南昌), on October 31; and (10) Bishop Yang Yongqiang (楊永强) of Zhoucun, Shandong (山東周村), on November 15. Their average age was 50. So far so good.

One bishop ordained under extreme pressure

Chengde, in the hills of northeast Hebei (河北承德), was the old summer resort of the Manchu nobility. With the redrawing of provincial borders, those counties were cut off and were not part of any diocese. The government appointed 42-year-old Father Guo Jincai (郭金才) as the first bishop of Chengde. After much arm-twisting of the ordaining bishops and, in spite of Vatican objections, he was ordained on November 20.

According to all reports, there was nothing subtle about the way the consecrating bishops were taken from their home dioceses, escorted to Chengde and forced into the sanctuary for the Mass and ordination. For the first time, the Holy See mentioned the need to investigate whether the ordination was valid, as in whether Father Guo Jincai is now a bishop in Apostolic Succession or the ceremony was null and void due to coercion. If so, he needs to be ordained again under freer circumstances in order for the Holy See and many local Catholics to consider him a bishop. The government is hardly likely to permit a second ceremony.

Bishops in China seldom retire at 75 years of age, or even 80, so four or five of the bishops named above might still be in office in 2050. With or without Vatican approval, several more bishops are likely to be ordained in 2011.

A long-awaited National Assembly

The Eighth National Assembly of Catholic Representatives met in Beijing from December 7 to 9. This was the first one in six years. There were over 300 names on the invitation list, including 64 bishops, none of whom belong to the unofficial Church community.

Due to advanced age, hospitalisation, and, in the case of at least one bishop who ran away and became the object of a police hunt, only 45 bishops were seen on the opening day. Some arrived late, while others will have to explain why they did not come. Neither the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) nor the Public Security Bureau will accept “the pope did not want me to attend,” as a valid excuse.

Well in advance of the National Assembly, the third plenary meeting of the Commission on China was held in the Vatican for March 22 to 24. It issued a communiqué stating that no bishop in China may participate in a meeting which would harm communion with the Holy Father, or concelebrate with illicitly ordained bishops. That message circulated in China. At the same time, money channeled through the CCPA benefits an increasing number of dioceses, seminaries, and parishes, so there is a high financial price to pay for not cooperating with the government. Anywhere in the world, accepting money leads to a loss of independence.

The new president of the CCPA, 57-year-old Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao (房興耀) of Linyi, Shandong (山東臨沂), has a mandate from the Holy See, unlike the new president of the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin.

Reaction and counteraction

On December 1, after the ordination in Chengde and before the Eighth National Assembly, Pope Benedict XVI asked Catholics worldwide to pray for the Church, and especially for the bishops in China, in these “particularly difficult moments.”

On December 17, the Holy See issued a strong communiqué blaming Chinese authorities for interfering in the internal affairs of the Catholic Church and violating the consciences of bishops through coercion.

Various spokespersons for the Chinese government lost no time in blaming the Vatican for interfering in China’s internal affairs and for misrepresenting the facts about religious freedom in China.

This volley of charges and countercharges could easily continue into 2011, or both sides could tacitly agree to a lull in the verbal artillery. Time will tell.

Conflicts are easier to start than to finish

In 1914, a new threat, the dropping of bombs from zeppelins (airships) led to blackouts of city lights. Winston Churchill said, “The lights are going out across Europe. We may not see them lit again in our lifetime.” If there is a light at the end of the tunnel of Sino-Holy See relations, it is currently behind thick drapes.

As World War I dragged on, other nations such as the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), Italy and finally the United States of America were drawn into conflict. Unless there is some unforeseen breakthrough, Catholics in Macau and Hong Kong might get drawn into the dispute in 2011 or 2012. This could be a severe test of religious freedom under the policy of One Country, Two Systems. Readers of China Bridge are encouraged to pray, fast and perhaps even weep bitterly over the incidents of late 2010.