Church in China: 2021 dominated by the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party

by Bernardo Cervellera

This year’s work program for Catholics has been drawn up by bishops and the Patriotic Association.  Deepen the history of the Party, the Long March, Socialism, aligning with the leadership of Xi Jinping.  A Theological Forum on Sinicization is also planned.  More than a “pastoral” program, it is a political program in which the “independent and autonomous Church” is exalted.

Rome (AsiaNews) – July 23, 1921 is the date of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. The event occured in Shanghai in what was once the French Concession.  One hundred years after that date, in 2021, the Catholics of China will hold a symposium “in memory of the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party” and will deepen their understanding of “the moving events during the period of the Long March”, which laid the foundations for the definitive victory of Mao Zedong over Chiang Kai Shek. 

The information is reported in an article published in the state-Catholic magazine “The Church in China”, by a certain Hui Jing, citing a preparatory meeting between the Chinese bishops and the leaders of the Patriotic Association, held in early February.

The symposium and the study of the Long March are just some of the events that will characterize the program of ecclesial commitments drawn up by the Council of Bishops and the PA for this year. 

The article lists “formation courses in collaboration with the Central Institute of Socialism”;  preparatory courses for the national gathering of the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference” (held in March);  the “construction of the Patriotic Association”, and much more.

Naturally, Catholics are firstly required to deepen “the guidelines of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party and the 5th Plenary Session of the 19th National Congress”, as well as assimilate “Xi Jinping’s thinking on socialism with Chinese characteristics  for a new era”, strengthening “our awareness of the need to maintain political integrity, to think in general terms, to follow the heart of the leadership and keep in line with the central Party leadership.”

If there are those who find this lacking in pastoral and religious terms, the program provides for the assimilation of the Party’s vision of the Catholic religion: in 2021 believers will also be called upon to familiarize themselves with “the laws and regulations concerning the Regulation on religious affairs  and Measures for the administration of religious communities, carrying out the principles of love for the homeland and love for religion, the independent and autonomous Church, the democratic management of the Church.”

Beyond the titles and slogans, 2021 will be a period in which the Catholic Church in China must “assimilate” the vision of a “State Church”, subject in all respects to the orders of the Patriotic Association and to the Party vision.  And despite the provisional agreement between China and the Vatican, with the so-called recognition of the Pope as head of the Church, the principle of the “independent and autonomous Church” and of “democratic management” is reaffirmed, which actually means the submission of bishops to the  Patriotic Association.

In this political (rather than pastoral) program, the only element vaguely linked to the mission of the Church is that of Sinicization, of bringing Christian theology closer to Chinese culture.  And indeed, the program includes the convening of a “Theological Forum on Sinicization, [whose] topics will include rites, sacred music and art, etc.”. 

What a pity that this too  is under the supervision and control of the Patriotic Association, an organization linked to the Communist Party which for the most part is made up of atheist officals.  And in fact, far from being an attempt to nurture faith within Chinese culture (a fact that has existed for a long time), Sinicization is only a nationalist translation of the Party’s political control over the Catholic Church.

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