Subject:VI: Chinese Catholics, “reconciliation” masses in the Baoding diocese
“Official” and “clandestine” priests together read the Pope’s Message to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church. They then concelebrate the liturgy of the Eucharist before the people of God, in the diocese marked by decades of division between the communities: “We are one Church. We are all of Christ. Let us go together to the Lord”
Date: 15 March, 2019
Pubblicato il 15/03/2019
Ultima modifica il 15/03/2019 alle ore 14:19
It all took place in Shizhuang, a village in the diocese of Baoding, in the Chinese province of Hebei. It was there that together with their Catholic brothers and sisters, two Chinese priests, Fr. Yang Yi Cun and Fr. Jiang Yan Li, partook in an ecclesial event which expresses what is happening in Chinese Catholicism better than any type of analysis or discussion.
Of the two priests, Yang belongs to the so-called “official” community and Jiang to the so-called “clandestine” community. The first is subjected to a system of dispositions and contacts with the “patriotic” bodies that regulate the government’s religious policy. The second, until now, exercised his priestly ministry without being “registered” by those same apparatuses.
Hebei, and in particular the diocese of Baoding, has for decades been the epicenter of lacerating divisions which seemed incurable, between the “official” community and the “clandestine” one. Fights and grudges which flowed from stories of suffering as well as from the different ways of reacting towards the intrusiveness of the political apparatus. Long seasons of resentments and accusations between people who shared the same baptism and the same Catholic faith.
It was there that, in early March, the two priests, the “clandestine” and the “official”, wished to celebrate together the “Reconciliation Mass”. With the blessing of Francis An Shuxin, bishop of Baoding, and accompanied by hundreds of baptized.
In the evening, Catholics gathered to recite the rosary. Fr. Yang Yi Cun arrived from the east side of Shizhuang Square, bringing with him the band, the choir and the orchestra. Fr. Jiang Yan Li came from the other side with his altar boys, “his” choir, nuns and the faithful. The two communities merged into a single procession, continuing together in procession with the cross, candles and incense. Everyone sang the traditional hymn entitled “Our great Pope”, up to the temporary structure used as a church, where the liturgy of the Eucharist was celebrated.
In front of this “provisional” church, waiting for the two priests and the whole procession, was Bishop An. “First of all,” the bishop said in his homily, “we must thank God. For so many years we have not been together! And it is the love of God that made us come together to accomplish together that which is pleasing to Him “. Fr. Yang, in his speech, reiterated that “it is the love of God which brings us together, and now human obstacles can no longer stop us”. Yang also added that “the faithful follow the priests, the priests follow the bishop, the bishops follow the Pope. And therefore, we all follow the Pope, in communion, and now we will work together so that the grace of God and His salvation can be brought to all”.
Fr. Jiang, on the other hand, reiterated that after years of lacerating separation, “it is not a question of determining who won and who lost: following the Pope”, continued the priest who was up till now considered “clandestine”, “we are all of Christ. Christ wants us to be one thing, and our faith says we need to listen to the Pope and be united “. After the Mass, blessed by the bishop, the two priests with some members of the community and local authorities met to discuss the works of the parish, which became a commitment to be shared among communities that seemed hopelessly divided. And the first appeal to everyone was to entrust oneself to God in the face of future difficulties, and to pray together asking that a new, larger church be built soon.
The Mass which took place in Shizhuang is not an isolated event. It is part of a process of reconciliation implemented by four priests and all the baptized in three Catholic parishes of the diocese of Baoding, sprouting from the shared reading of the Message addressed by Pope Francis to Chinese Catholics and the Universal Church after the agreement between Beijing and the Holy See on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China.
The four priests and their parishioners have condensed their common reflection into a few simple points of practical orientation, in which they promise to always “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what is of God”, to follow the hierarchical communion with Bishop An, to no longer look at the wrongs of the past. “We join the spirit of the Pope’s message”, reads the small handbook of pastoral proposals, “among other things, we read in the list and we clearly state that we are no longer “illegal” and “official”, there are no longer the “faithful” and the unfaithful. We are one Church. We are all of Christ, let us go together to the Lord».
Before the Shizhuang Mass, similar Eucharistic liturgies of reconciliation had already been celebrated last Christmas in the parish of Gao Bei Dian and then, on January 17, in the parish of Zuozhou. The promoters of the path of reconciliation take note of the resistances and also of the criticisms received from other brothers in the faith, but they put their trust in the “charity which heals wounds”, and can make everyone grow in communion, to the point of becoming “one flock that follows the same pastor”.
The Reconciliation Masses celebrated in the diocese of Baoding bring to the surface the determining factor in all of this, that with time will be able to heal the contrasts and the wounds still open within the Chinese Catholic community. The unity of heart among Chinese Catholics cannot prevail by virtue of canonical Vatican provisions, let alone by coercive pressures and measures implemented by political apparatuses. It can only flourish from the grassroots, from the desire for unity and from the sensus fidei of Chinese Catholics themselves. A process which is to be accompanied with patience, because unity in faith is never an automatic reaction, and can only flourish from the gratuitousness of mutual forgiveness.
The diocese of Baoding represents one of the key places in the recent history of Chinese Catholicism and its lacerations. Peter Fan Xueyan was the bishop in Baoding, who in the early eighties of the last century had begun to ordain the first “clandestine” bishops, outside of the government’s control, and in 1992, after yet another period of detention, his body was returned to his family members, wrapped in a plastic bag. Today the bishop of Baoding is Francis An Shuxin, who was detained for ten years by the communist authorities, and then insulted by Catholic agencies and “clandestine” Chinese Catholic groups when in 2006 he decided to leave the condition of clandestinity and to exercise his episcopal ministry with the consent of the Holy See and the recognition of governmental apparatus from 2010 onwards.
After so many lacerations, the Reconciliation Masses in the diocese of Baoding also indicate a new road on which to walk together. In order not to hinder the faithful’s access to the sacraments and to the aids in the life of grace. And to favour patiently, without unnecessary external pressures, the miracle of reconciliation, which can only pass through the hearts and consciences of individuals.