Forum held to promote sinicization of theology

Attendants criticize the event as politically motivated and far from a true theological discussion

ucanews reporter, Hong Kong 
November 21, 2019

Chinese priests attend Mass at a Catholic church in Beijing on Christmas Eve in 2018. Clergy attended a forum on the sinicization of Catholicism but many felt it was more to do with obeying the Beijing government. (Photo: Wang Zhao/AFP)

A two-day forum has been held in Chengdu, capital of China’s southwestern province of Sichuan, on the sinicization of theology.

Organized by the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), the forum did not meet with universal praise.

“The forum had a political mission. The papers read out were either too general or struck the same old tune. It had nothing to do with theology,” said a parish priest who attended the forum on Nov. 12-13.

There were few papers on theology and plenty on matters related to politics, he said.

About 140 people attended the event, where 17 scholars from universities across China discussed how to integrate Catholicism into traditional Chinese culture.

The forum, the sixth of its kind, was hosted by the Sichuan Catholic Patriotic Association and Catholic Administration Commission, and co-organized by the Chengdu Catholic Patriotic Association.

It was conducted by Bishop Li Jing of Ningxia, executive director of the BCCCC and the CCPA’s theological studies commission, and Bishop Xu Honggen of Suzhou, the deputy director.

Paul, another participant, told ucanews that in one debate on sinicization it was mentioned that clergy should not wear vestments when raising the national flag or sing songs not related to faith in the Church.

He agreed these showed a disrespect for faith and were harmful to the sanctity of the Church but pointed out that most priests spoke up in support of the sinicization of Catholicism. One said that as Chinese citizens Catholics should be faithful to a sinicized form of Catholicism and be proud to be sinicized clergy.

Bishop Ma Yinglin, chairman of the BCCCC, told a specially convened session on Nov. 12 that it was their duty to convey and promote the spirit of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee (of the Communist Party.)

Bishop Shen Bin, deputy chairman of the BCCCC and CCPA, told the forum’s closing ceremony that Bishop Ma’s message demonstrated the Church’s stance in relation to passing on the faith in China and executing sinicized Catholicism in accordance with the wishes of the Beijing government.

‘Poison inside the jar’

Paul said the forum had merely restated the stance of the BCCCC and CCPA, and was nothing more than a politicizing, rather than sinicizing, of religion. “Sinicization is just an artificial covering of the poison inside the jar, aiming to turn Catholic faith on the mainland into communist Catholicism, not the Catholicism of the Church,” he said.

Some scholars said the forum had shown that the sinicization advocated by the forum was not the same as inculturation, he said, because “this sinicization is mixed with too many political factors.”

On the special topic “Harmony and Symbiosis — Convergence of Catholicism and Chinese Culture,” Bishop Yang Yongqiang of Zhoucun in Shandong province spoke about “incorporating Chinese traditional culture to promote the Gospel of Christ,” according to a report published on the WeChat (social media app) public account of the government’s State Administration for Religious Affairs.

Bishop Yang said that everyone dreamed of rejuvenating the Chinese nation and preaching the Gospel at the same time. “How to integrate excellent Chinese traditional culture to preach the Gospel and let the Gospel of Christ take seed and grow in China is our responsibility and our mission,” he said.

Du Xiao’an, a professor in the school of history and culture at Shaanxi University of Science and Technology, also discussed a way of integrating Catholicism and Chinese traditional culture, saying that adhering to a “Chinese orientation of Catholicism” needed to integrate the Gospel of Christ into Chinese culture in order to best promote Catholicism.

It needed to be integrated with traditional Chinese culture so that the majority of religious believers could better adapt to the development of Chinese society and serve the masses, said Du.

He said the Catholic Church in China should inherit and promote “Matteo Ricci’s rule … consistently integrating patriotism with faith, adhering to the principle of independence, autonomy and self-management in governing the Church and education.”

Du also called for priests to actively guide Catholicism and socialism in line with the integration of evangelization and sinicization, promoting the era of Catholicism, popularization and life, thus realizing the integration of Catholic doctrines into traditional Chinese culture.

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