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A very interesting year

It will take more than letters to mark the Year of Faith

  • Zhang Wang, China
  • China
  • October 25, 2012
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A fortnight ago, the Church in China joined the universal Church in celebrating the opening of the Year of Faith.

Being absent from the Second Vatican Council due to the political turmoil of the 1960s, the Church in mainland China is eager to make up for what it missed then. Different dioceses are offering a wide range of formation programs on the Council documents and the catechism.

There is, however, a noticeable difference if you compare this year to the Year of St Paul and the Year of the Priests.

In 2008, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), to which it is closely linked, issued a circular asking all dioceses to hold relevant activities for the Year of St Paul.

In May 2009, they again issued a joint circular, in which they requested a continuation of prayers for vocations as the Year of Priests was drawing towards its conclusion in June.

This year, both bodies have been relatively low key. Only the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei - Door of Faith - was posted on their official website. There have been no other related activities, announcements or news.

Obviously, the ordination of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in Shanghai diocese on July 7, during which he announced he was quitting the CCPA, irked these two government-sanctioned bodies as well as the government itself. So it may not be surprising if they are in no mood to make themselves look like they are in line with the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

Another noteworthy occurrence was the profusion of pastoral letters in the final few weeks before the Year of Faith started. At least 17 of them, from different dioceses, have found their way onto the internet since late August.

Experience tells us that bishops in mainland China are not the most prolific writers of these letters. You could count on one hand the number that have appeared in China to mark major Church feasts in the past. So I cannot help thinking that if there has not been a direct instruction from the Vatican, there has at least been some kind of outside “encouragement” to prompt this sudden burst of correspondence.

True, the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith did issue guidelines for the Year of Faith in January, and did recommend the production of diocesan pastoral letters. But since the Chinese version of the guidelines was not available until late September and our bishops need to take time to write, I think the “encouragement” might have come before this.

Among the dispatches, the twin pastoral letters that came out of Fuzhou diocese were perhaps the most intriguing. Fuzhou is a complicated diocese compared to others in China. Apart from the distinction of “official” and “unregistered” Church communities, even the “unregistered” community is split internally.

The two letters were signed by two “underground” bishops who are not recognized by the government. One of them was Bishop Vincent Huang Shoucheng of Mindong, who is also the apostolic administrator of Fuzhou. His letter was intended only for Fuzhou, not his own Mindong diocese.

The other was issued by Fuzhou’s prelate Peter Lin Jiashan, who described himself as Archbishop of Fuzhou. In fact, the Holy See conferred to him only an honorary title without jurisdiction.

I must admit it occurred to me that these twin pastoral letters suggested a power struggle.

Shanghai is equally intriguing. There, Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian is known as a diligent writer of pastoral letters. He has written many in the past yet he has not written one to mark the Year of Faith. I think the reason is obvious. The elderly prelate has been keeping a very low profile since the ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Ma.

Only a couple of weeks after its opening, the Year of Faith certainly seems to be stirring the faithful. Besides discussions on the core subject, Catholics in internet forums and chatrooms are also calling for real action. One of them has challenged clergy in the official Church to leave the government-sanctioned CCPA in order to demonstrate their faith.

This prompts me to put a question to the writers of those often lengthy, voluminous pastoral letters: do your deeds truly match your words? Are your writings substantial enough to move us faithful to live out our faith?

That door of faith has opened; it is time for us to reflect and move through it together.

Zhang Wang is the pen-name of a Catholic blogger in China 

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