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Catholic Church in China Is Growing, Says Priest
Joyce Duriga, Catholic News Service
Published: Saturday, October 12, 2013
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Jesuit Father Michel Marcil, right, speaks to Father Roger Shuxin Zhang from China .(CNS photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

While the focus of the faith in China often centers on human rights issues, "we feel that the long and sustained faith of the Catholic Church in China is something that is not often discussed," said Passionist Father Robert Carbonneau.

The priest, assistant director of the U.S. Catholic China Bureau, said the church in China has grown by at least 10 million members since 1949.

"It's a faith that's alive," he said. "There are abuses, but there's also hope, and any church needs that to survive."

Father Carbonneau offered these comments before the start of the 25th National Catholic China Conference Oct. 4-6 at Loyola University Chicago. More than 130 people from around the United States and China attended the conference, which was sponsored by the U.S. Catholic China Bureau and focused on the theme of globalization.

The purpose of the bureau, based in Berkeley, Calif., is to be a bridge between the Catholic Church in the United States and the Catholic Church in China. It engages mostly with clergy, religious, students and scholars but is open to anyone with an interest in the church in China.

"Our purpose really is to bring all these different people interested in the long-standing history of the Catholic Church in China to look toward the future of how they can engage with China," said Father Carbonneau.

The bureau also recently published the first parallel translation of the Old Testament in English and Chinese.

Often when Americans think about the Catholic Church in China, they think about the registered and unregistered church communities.

"When China began suppressing the church in the late 1950s, it established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, whose members initially were asked to reject ties with the Vatican," Catholic News Service explained in a series on China. "Many of the Catholics who joined indicated they chose to cooperate with the government and work within its restrictions, but remained loyal to the Vatican.

"Catholics who refused to join the patriotic association maintained their loyalty to the Vatican and suffered decades of persecution," CNS reported.

There is tension between the two over the appointment of bishops. The patriotic association says it has the authority to ordain bishops; the Vatican disagrees.

Issues of the registered and unregistered church communities or human rights weren't the focus of the weekend, but the situation in China was recognized by all attendees and ways to work within the restrictions noted.

In one of the Oct. 5 sessions, the room was packed as representatives from the University of Notre Dame, Fordham University and the University of Dayton spoke about programs their Catholic institutions offer in China.

Fordham has offered degree programs in China for 24 years and Notre Dame is growing its presence in China with partnerships with universities and businesses.

The University of Dayton has more than 800 Chinese students on its Ohio campus and also has its own research institute in the Suzhou Industrial Park in the Jiangsu Province in eastern China where its engineers, scientists and students work with global companies. The China institute offers semester programs to both American and Chinese students.

Throughout all their workings in China, Daniel Curran, president of the University of Dayton, said the university hasn't sacrificed its identity.

"We are openly Catholic," Curran said.

There were times when the Marianist university was establishing its institute in 2012 when school officials were asked to change their logo featuring the dome of a church with a cross on top. The university said no, "and that was the right thing to do," Curran said.

Since the center opened, the university is finding more opportunities to work with the Catholic community in China.

"The key is engagement," he said. "The key is flexibility."

These kinds of partnerships within Catholic organizations of the church in the United States to help Catholics in China is important, said Franciscan Father Bonaventure Bai.

"It will be a very powerful force," said Father Bai, who is from China but based in Washington.

"I hope the U.S. Catholic community can really provide more opportunities to the Chinese Catholic Church," he said.

This could be in the form of educating Chinese religious and clergy to go back and guide the Catholic community in China.

The Franciscan priest said that the Catholic Church in the U.S. also must provide greater awareness of and attention to the Chinese living and worshipping in this country while also calling attention to the plight of the church in China.

It's something all Catholics can do.

"We can't just wait for the bishops to do it," he said. "We can build up the sistership (between Catholics in the U.S. and Catholics in China)."

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