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August 15, 2004     503 Words

China's Catholic Church: Bruised But Healing

CINCINNATI—The Catholic Church in China is a courageous survivor. The faith endured even as Mao Zedong's power stretched across the country. Despite the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1977, when the most violent persecutions occurred, when thousands of ordinary Chinese Christians, along with their clergy and religious were imprisoned, the faith survived. Today, there are between 12 and 15 million Catholics in a population of 1.3 billion.

China's Catholic Church—past, present and future—is featured in the September cover story of St. Anthony Messenger entitled, "The Church in China: Cultivating the Pearl of Faith." Author Jane O'Shaughnessy, R.S.C.J., who spent four years off-and-on living in Taiwan, writes of the beleaguered Church and its faithful followers. After September 21, the issue will be posted at:

The early 1980s provided a long overdue breath of religious freedom for the faithful in China. The five major religions—Taoism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam—entered a period of reawakening. In 1982, China's new constitution recognized freedom of religious belief. This affirmed the right to engage in "normal" religious activities, although all were strictly controlled by the Chinese central government's Religious Affairs Bureau.

But sometimes freedom comes at a price. The Church suffered division as Catholics tried to remain faithful to the Vatican, which is seen by the Chinese government as a government in itself and, therefore, problematic for a country trying to remain autonomous. Chinese Catholics were required to submit to the control of the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Catholics are said to belong to either the "open" or "underground" Catholic community.

There are 1,200 priests in the "open" Church and 1,000 in the "underground." Twenty-five hundred sisters are in formation in more than 40 novitiates of the "open" Church and 20 in the "underground" Church. The great majority of government-appointed bishops, however, are now in full communion with the Holy See.

Chinese bishops have stated that education is the most pressing need for Church leadership today. In response, Catholic organizations are finding ways to assist their Catholic sisters and brothers in China. One such endeavor is the "Chinese Seminary Teachers & Formators Project"—a graduate study program organized by the Maryknoll Society in New York. Together with assistance from the religious orders and several Catholic universities and seminaries, graduate studies are provided in theology and other essential disciplines for priests and women religious that are simply not available in China.

With more opportunities provided to Chinese Catholics, hope for the future is promising. Author O'Shaughnessy believes that unity among the extended Catholic family is key to its survival. "We as members of the same body are called to solidarity with Chinese Catholics in their efforts to reconcile the events of the past, as horrifying as they may have been, and work toward a future that speaks of the reign of God," she writes.


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