Subject:VI: China, Bishop Wei: the time of going underground is ending

“The Chinese Catholic communities are reconciling” – says the Bishop of Qiqihar, not yet recognized by the government – “not because of a command coming from the outside, but because their faith asks them to do so”. It also scales down the issue of the demolition of a convent of nuns of his diocese

Vatican Insider

Pubblicato il 28/12/2018
Ultima modifica il 28/12/2018 alle ore 10:53

“The time of going underground is ending.” This is what Joseph Wei Jingyi, bishop of Qiqihar, in the Chinese north-eastern province of Heilongjiang, told Vatican Insider . Notably, his episcopal ordination is not yet recognized by the government, who considers him only as one of the members of the so called “underground” community. He is also known as one of the most authoritative voices among the “underground” Catholics. When he was only 31, as a young priest entrusted with non-marginal tasks, he was present at the meeting organized by about twenty “underground” bishops or their delegates in November 1989 in the small village of Zhangerce, in the north-central province of Shaanxi. The meeting aimed to establish the Chinese Bishops’ Conference that could operate outside the control of the Chinese political apparatus. Also because of that, his words appear to be even more eloquent and demanding.

In his interview with Vatican Insider , Bishop Wei also clarifies and scales down the story of the partial demolition of a convent of nuns, which occurred in the past few days in his diocese (this issue made him so agitated that it even caused him mild illness).

Bishop Wei, why would the time of the underground communities be ending for the Catholic Church in China?

“The choice of going underground was not made by an individual or a group of people. It was a necessity to preserve the integrity of the Catholic faith. We are Catholics and we cannot detach ourselves from the Pope. When we detach ourselves from the Pope, we are no longer Catholic. A public officer once asked me whether in China we could detach ourselves from the Pope and remain Catholics. I replied that this is not possible. If we declare ourselves Catholics, then we must follow the Pope. We did not want to do anything secretly, we just did not want to be forced to renounce the bond with the Pope. There is no other choice. If we separate ourselves from the Pope, we cannot call ourselves Catholics any longer. We should change our name, and call ourselves in another way.”

And now what has changed?

“On September 22, 2018, a provisional agreement was signed between Chinese representatives and the Holy See on the future appointments of the Chinese bishops [the Pope has welcomed into the communion the Chinese bishops who had been ordained without the consent of the Holy See ndr]. The task of uniting with the universal Church a part of the Chinese Church that was divided is now accomplished. Therefore, the Catholic Church in China and the other churches around the world are the same, are all part of the universal Church. However, due to historical reasons, a part of the underground community continues to exist for some time, but this situation will soon end as history moves forward.”

But not everybody seems to agree on this.

“Among the underground groups there are still some people that continue to keep closed and ideological stands. But as events develop, this will also change as we move forward along the way.”

After a long time of division, can the Chinese Catholic Church get united again just because the Vatican commands to do so, or because the Chinese government imposes it with its laws?
“Each community gradually walks towards reconciliation with joy and gratitude. This not only comes from the above, but is the fruit of faith. The Holy See does not issue orders, it is not like the central authorities; our belief is like the apostles’ belief, therefore, spontaneously, naturally we will happily act, this is the joy of all Catholics. Without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we cannot even call Jesus Lord. Without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we cannot see clearly the relationship between the local Church and the universal Church. Without the action and help of the Holy Spirit, we would have not persisted until today. It is the Lord who makes us faithful in the hardships.”

Are there already examples of this possible reconciliation?

“There is the good news of the unity in the diocese of Mindong [where bishop Guo Xijin (until now ‘underground’) and bishop Zhan Silu (formerly illicit and welcomed in full communion by the Pope) have embraced each other and now will work together ndr]. This tells us that the call of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, that they may all be one, has now been answered in Mindong. We must work hard to promote unity and use concrete actions to heal the wounds that have injured and divided for many years the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. In the process of reconciliation of the Church, there is no loser in the open and underground communities, and they both walk hand in hand with the Virgin Mary and Jesus. Jesus said I am with you every day until the end of the world.”

There are people that keep up on saying that to settle things, underground communities are always forced to step back, labelling them as defeated, forced to bow their heads.
“Now that the relationship with the Pope has been publicly acknowledged, we are very happy and moved because our Lord accepted our sacrifices, comforted our dedication and our sufferings have not been in vain. It is absolutely wrong to talk about victory or defeat. Whoever says that the underground community is defeated and abandoned is totally wrong. Who walks hand in hand with the Virgin Mary will be held by Jesus. Jesus will win! Today we are all winners, those who believe in Jesus from both the open and underground communities. Now that the relationship with the Pope has been publicly acknowledged, we are very happy and moved because our Lord accepted our sacrifice, comforted our dedication and our sufferings have not been in vain.”

What has happened in Mindong could it happen elsewhere?

“Some priests and faithful ask me: now that there is unity within the Mingdong community, what shall we do? I tell them that the reconciliation of the Mingdong community involves the acceptance of the formerly above-ground ‘official’ bishop by the underground groups and also the registration of formerly underground bishop, priests as well as activities and religious places in government bodies. All this requires joint efforts from both sides. The acceptance of the formerly above-ground bishop within the church can be completed. Concerning the registration of personnel, church activities and religious places in the civil bodies, this still requires further dialogue with the government and we need to be psychologically prepared for that. In any case, we need to try hard and walk step by step towards reconciliation with joy and gratitude. This is what our faith asks us to do.”

In the last days, however, there have been reports of the demolition of a convent of nuns in your diocese.

“I personally investigated this issue, which is now resolved. In reality, the convent of nuns was not built in compliance with the regulations. A woman had built the building in a temporary factory in the village of Ping’an that was originally planned to be used for a farm economic project. Later on, because the project was not implemented, the building was temporary given to the nuns, who carried out other construction work, without the necessary permissions. In mid-December, the government sent a letter to inform that the building was going to be demolished. Unfortunately, the local government is not “soft” on these matters. In short, when the demolition work started, I went personally to the place and I spoke with the sisters, the faithful and the local government’s officials. We discussed and we were able to find a common solution to the problem. Finally, they decided to demolish the illegal parts of the building. The government expressed its willingness to host the sisters in a hotel. Later, some of them found temporary hospitality in the homes of other Christians. Our plan is to rebuild the convent somewhere else with the necessary permissions. And I made a public request to everyone to offer some help to the sisters.”

However, a number of episodes and issues seem to confirm that there are problems and tensions between Catholic communities and the political authorities.
“The road ahead of us is full of difficulties, but it is also full of hope. Our salvation comes from the Lord, who created heaven and earth.”

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