The renewal of the Sino-Vatican agreement amid well-founded fears and feeble hopes
A Chinese journalist, a Catholic from Shanghai and a refugee in Italy, describes the situation of the Church in China and the impact that the agreement may have on the appointment of bishops. The wisdom of Pope Francis in attempting dialogue; China’s reputation for violating international agreements. The communist regime despises all religions. The faith of the Chinese continues to grow among thorns.
Ancona (AsiaNews) – A few days ago, on October 22, the Holy See announced the renewal of the pastoral agreement with the Chinese authorities, originally stipulated in September 2018. We cannot know the text, but we are aware of the fact that there have been no visible signs of improvement in religious freedom in China, rather, events would point to a movement in the exact opposite direction from the one desired.
News of the renewal has aroused fierce criticism and has also triggered negative speculations about the Holy See by some Catholics in mainland China. In this context, there is an attempt to establish a dialogue with the regime to solve the problem of the appointment of bishops so as not to leave the dioceses without pastors or, worse, with members of the clergy appointed exclusively by the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) without papal approval.
The Catholic Church in China is artificially divided by the regime between the “official” church (dependent on the Patriotic Association) and the underground one. The concept of Chinese citizenship is non-existent due to the blatant denial of fundamental freedoms and the thought of bringing Catholics together in an umbrella organization controlled by the regime means realizing the dreams of the dictatorship.
What is the real situation of the Chinese Catholic Church today? Members of the underground Church are arrested every day, while bishops appointed unilaterally by the Patriotic Association have been admitted to communion with Rome. In the meantime, surveillance cameras have been installed in religious buildings, the national flag has been hoisted, access to religious buildings has been forbidden to minors and even the Bible has been distorted and rewritten in many passages. Should I add more? In some cases, the portraits of Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping were placed on both sides of the cross and the altar.
On June 28 last, the Vatican released the first post-agreement public document “Pastoral Guidelines of the Holy See concerning the Civil Registration of the Clergy in China”, offering a new notion of the Church’s independence in China. I myself, as the head of social communications within the diocese of Shanghai (photo 1), shared that text with Catholic faithful on Chinese platforms. Less than 10 hours later, both priest who was my reference and I received severe threats from the Religious Affairs Office. The intellectual boast of Vatican diplomacy was erased by a click of the index finger of my right hand, amid my tears and warnings from the communist regime. I had to flee my country and I know what I’m talking about for having experienced it first-hand. This is not some speculation by a bored intellectual.
Chinese Society and the Church are like a thorny ground. The thorns are that rapid economic development has irreversibly compromised the environment, violated every right to decent work and fundamental freedoms have been denied. The propaganda is also stronger than ever. The large firewall built by the CCP makes it easy to hide the truth. The real spread of the Gospel remains in fact an extremely complex operation. Indeed, among the main objectives of the CCP’s control of religion is the desire to eliminate the Gospel and use the strong power of control to hasten the demise of religions considered unnatural by the Communist establishment. The regime wants to disperse the seeds planted by great Italian missionaries, such as Giovanni da Montecorvino and Matteo Ricci. Despite the renewal, the Chinese government will not pull out the thorns or cut the weeds in the soil. On the contrary, it will be the CCP that will want to sow more and more weeds and to stick the thorns further in while we sleep blissfully. The purpose of an atheist regime is to destroy faith because they are the sworn enemies of the Sower.
The appreciable wisdom of Pope Francis in trying to establish an inclusive dialogue with everyone will show the world that the king is naked: the credibility of the Chinese regime is in fact already at an all-time low. The Pope – in “Fratelli tutti” – invites us to overcome differences by building bridges. However, we must admit that it takes two to dialogue. I cannot fail to mention that the Chinese regime – over the years – has ratified numerous international treaties on human rights, among which the “Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” stands out. The blatant violation of these international obligations confirms the marked attitude of non-compliance. The dictatorship signs the agreement with one hand and, with the other, continues its violent campaign to fight God and His witnesses. The courage of Pope Francis will offer the world another opportunity to see and evaluate, with their own eyes, the true nature of the communist regime’s contempt for every religion. How can an interlocutor who works for your destruction ever respect an agreement?
The renewal will be politically exploited by the dictatorship, compromising the already precarious security of the brothers and sisters harshly persecuted for the faith. Not everyone will be lucky enough to be able to escape like I did. Not everyone will find a helpful lawyer and a warm family ready to welcome them like I found in Italy. In the end it is not even that important to analyse the text of the agreement because the result of the renewal can be summed up in just two words: no advantage.
Instead, I remain optimistic for the bright future of the Church in the thorny soil of China, but the international community will first have to intervene to extract the thorns and eradicate the weeds through a new democratic culture that will be born from the ashes of the communist regime destined to end like all evil and devastating human phenomena.
* Dalù (photo 2) is the pseudonym of a Chinese journalist, radio host and activist currently a refugee in Italy. Born in Shanghai in 1963, his career stalled when he recalled the Tiananmen massacre in a public broadcast in 1995. In 2010 he converted to Catholicism, working for the diocese of Shanghai. In 2019 he arrived in Italy, where he was granted the status of political refugee. For other news, see: “Dalù, persecuted for remembering Tiananmen massacre, welcome in Italy” (AsiaNews.it, 2/06/2020)