Internal affairs officals (Religious Affairs Office) order religious symbols removed from houses and churches. But the local government says that this is not right or constitutional. The two-faced game of the Sino-Vatican agreement. One priest’s experience.
by P. Stanislaus (達尼老神父 )
Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Chinese Communist Party is “schizophrenic” on religion: it has an “external” face with which it preaches religious freedom, defended by the Constitution, and an “internal” face with which it tries to control, suffocate, eliminate even wedding rings. This is the conclusion reached by Fr. Stanislaus, the author of the reflection below, based on a personal episode and the inquiries made during these weeks after the Chinese New Year.
During the holiday Chinese families traditionally hand banners from their doors bearing artistic couplets with some greetings (of the type: “Welcome wealth, good fortune”, or “May you get everything you want”). For a long time now Christians have also included religiously written writings (such as “May God’s love always bless you” or “The Gospel brings peace to all”) has been invoked.
Even such greetings are perceived as “dangerous” and therefore to be removed! But the amazement of Fr. Stanislaus is that the order is being imposed by members of the Religious Affairs Bureau. Instead, the local government claims that the suppression of such religious signs from inscriptions “is wrong”!
A similar “schizophrenia” is visible in the Sino-Vatican agreement concluded last September: on the one hand it is recognized that the pontiff is head of the Chinese Catholic Church, because the nominations of the bishops will need his approval; on the other the persecution of unofficial priests and bishops continues as do controls on official ones, giving the clear message that “despite the agreement between China and the Vatican”, the Party willcontinue to build an “independent” Church.
According to some experts, this “schizophrenia” is deliberate: it allows China to present a modern and liberal public face, while internal repression continues undisturbed. According to other experts, this “schizophrenia” is a sign that China is still a prisoner of a Marxist mentality towards religions, considering them a dangerous and harmful element. The new religious regulations are the result of this strongly negative mentality towards every faith.
In concrete terms, we need to be thankful for and give thanks to Fr. Stanislaus and all the faithful in China who “despite” the crudeness of a mentality imbued with positivism and nineteenth-century ideologies, continue to live the Christian faith as the source of their hope and their humor.
Last Sunday I went to celebrate Mass. While I was listening to the confessions, some faithful came to look for me, saying that the citizen cadres of the Party invited them to remove all the religious writings (the couplets: see photo) on the occasion of the Spring Festival [the Lunar New Year] and to substitute them with other secular ones.
When I asked why, they replied that it was an order from high up. So I asked which boss and which department the order came from. They replied: from the Religious Affairs Office. So I phoned the director of the Department for Religious Affairs, asking for explanations. The main reason – they told me – was that in those days staff from the provincial government for poverty reduction was carrying out impromptu inspections: if they had seen those religious writings, they would have been severely punished.
And to think that they are supposed to be worried about reducing poverty “… But is religion really the biggest obstacle to poverty reduction !?
This morning some parish faithful reported that members of the local government inspected their homes, to check if there were religious writings of the Spring Festival, asking for their removal. When some of the parishioners refused, the officials asked that at least cut off the top part, with [the image of] a cross, or to expose the Spring Festival couplets brought by them- which had non-religious greetings – outside.
Where the faithful were not at home, at the time of the inspection, they did this autonomously: non-religious greetings were hung over the couplets with religious writings already posted by the faithful… the couplets of the Spring Festival with “Chinese characteristics”!
A few years ago the Party cadres came to the parish with a similar request, demanding the removal of sacred images or their substitution with a portrait of the leader. The reason was the same: an inspection by the local and provincial government.
Reflecting on this I thought: maybe that the country does not want religion to exist? Or it wants to intimately command all religious activities? Otherwise how do you explain this opposition to religious symbols? But this would conflict with the principles of the Constitution: or maybe that is only used to hood-wink foreigners? They cannot be so shameless ?!
So, I questioned the leaders of the local and provincial government. The answer is that such a request has never been made in the past and that this way of doing is obviously wrong.
Am I wrong? Or is the Party suffering from schizophrenia and is it deeply divided?
Someone secretly told me – I cannot say who – the external affairs officials and the internal ones have completely different orders!
Wow! What fun… And I can see 100 thousand whistling alpacas[i]!
[i] Alpaca – or lama – in Chinese it is also called “cao ni ma”; it is a way to say: “Away with you”. It is a rather recent expression to express one’s anger or displeasure.