China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2011/Dec

Christmas and peace in the Church in China

Christmas is a good time to reflect upon our relationship with God and with others. Christians, like others, long for the absence of conflict and long to prepare for the coming of the peace of Christ.

The year 2011 in the Church in China has been a difficult one, complicated by two illicit ordinations of bishops, one in Leshan, Sichuan province, on June 29; and the other in Shantou, Guangdong province, on July 14.

The Vatican has declared that both of these priests are to be considered to be in a state of excommunication through their own actions.

We can add to these two, a third illicit ordination that took place in Chengde, Hebei province, on 20 November 2010.

They have further complicated already complicated China-Holy See relations and created confusion, mistrust and division in the hearts of the faithful. Only with remorse and reconciliation can these gaps be bridged.

The Eucharist is an expression of Church communion, but clergy, seminarians and the faithful in China say they are not at peace when Masses are celebrated by bishops without papal recognition or by bishops who have attended the illicit ordinations.

Even celebrating with bishops who support the independent Church is disturbing to many Catholics in China.

Father Andrew, from Hebei, told China Bridge, “Looking at the current situation of the Church in China, it is like looking at a patient suffering from heart disease. In their weak and feeble state they will catch a cold once the weather gets cooler. It really needs a good doctor to cure this disease, to give the right medicine to help the heart recover.”

More prayer and firmness in faith is the medicine, according to him.

Peace is no easy word. A young bishop in northern China, who faces disharmony in his diocese, hopes to see greater unity among Catholics.

He told China Bridge, “The chimes of Christmas bells will remind us of the peace Jesus brought us with his pain and suffering. I hope the Church in China will bear witness to Christ, be loyal to the successor of Peter and achieve unity and communion with the universal Church soon. In that way, more Chinese will know the true light of Jesus and become his believers.”

Sadly, this year saw the loss of several clergy who died of illness in their 30s and 40s, including the bishop of Yichang, Hubei province.

The news of their deaths raised awareness of health concerns among clergy, especially the middle-aged and the young.

Several elderly bishops from the unofficial communities in the Church in China also died this year.

This Christmas is, however, clouded by the news of the deaths of a priest and six seminarians in a traffic accident in Hebei, in mid-December.

Conflict between the official and unofficial communities still exists in some local Churches. In a parish in Fujian province, southeastern China, Father Lawrence told China Bridge, “I hope to see harmony, mutual communication and unity among local Catholics.

“Event though Catholics may not gather physically, we have to unite spiritually and welcome the faithful from the other communities. Division is the baggage left by history. We must learn to be tolerant and try to bridge the divisions.”

Some priests of the unofficial communities have been warned not to hold gatherings at Christmas time. Father Joseph, in Inner Mongolia, northwestern China, told China Bridge that he hopes the normalisation of China-Vatican relations will soon take place, so that the Church can be united and that his community can have a place to worship.

Another priest in Hebei, Father Paul, whose community is closely monitored as well, said, “We cannot plan or arrange Church activities for our faithful, but will try to celebrate Christmas Masses if possible. I hope the Church in China will live out the grace of loyalty. I firmly hope and await the coming of the Lord. The day will come.”

Christmas reminds us of the freedom from oppression and sin.

There are clergy in China who are still jailed in unknown places, including Bishop James Su Zhimin, of Baoding; Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang, of Yixian; and Father Lu Genjun, of Baoding, all in Hebei.

Father Wang Chengli, the administrator of Heze, Shandong province, was sentenced to two years in a reeducation and labour camp on August 25.

At least two young priests were badly beaten and tortured when detained earlier this year.

Jailed dissidents and human rights defenders in China are not forgotten. Christmas cards from outside China have been sent to Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, the Tiananmen Mothers and others.