It has been a month since the July 7 episcopal ordination in Shanghai took place. The incident has prompted many Chinese Catholics to reflect on religious freedom in China.
Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was not a renowned figure but all of a sudden he drew worldwide attention. Why? Is it because he publicly quit the Catholic Patriotic Association to focus on his episcopal ministry?
Such a gesture made our state leaders nervous. Why? Was there any political agenda behind Bishop Ma’s words? As a bishop, his words simply expressed his persistence and devotion to the Catholic faith.
A friend of mine once said, “We do not only respect those who cherish the same ideals as ours. We should also respect those who take different courses so that our broad-mindedness can be testified.”
The same friend added: “When we get along with those who share the same ideals, we call them ‘comrades.’ But when we also manage to get along well with those who pursue different goals, they are our ‘friends’.”
China should respect the natural development of religions to achieve long-lasting peace and harmony.
History has proven this to be true. The Tang Dynasty (618-907), during which emperors respected their people and were tolerant toward all religions, is regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization.
We remember Emperor Kangxi(1654-1722) in early Qing Dynasty who trusted foreign Catholic missionaries and learned from them astronomy, geography, mathematics and other scientific knowledge.
To introduce advanced technologies from the West, Emperor Kangxi welcomed numerous scholastic missionaries to his land. A prominent representative was Belgian Jesuit Father Ferdinand Verbiest.
From this first wave of Western knowledge spreading to China, we can trace the contribution of religions to the development of our country and to the advancement of the society.
Earlier this year, the State Administration for Religious Affairs jointly published with five other central government departments an opinion paper encouraging religious groups to engage in more charitable activities.
Wasn’t this move encouraging religions to make more contributions and reflecting their significance in the society? From here we can see how much the state understands and recognizes religions.
An important aspect of the Catholic Church is fidelity to the pope and obedience to Church law, which expresses the Church being one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Hence, the appointment of Catholic bishops should be solely endorsed by Rome.
A bishop’s duty is to meet pastoral needs, as he is the spiritual leader of his flock.
The Communist Party has no grounds to replace the pope as the leader of the Catholic faith. It should not interfere with the Church’s internal mechanism, especially on the issue of episcopal appointment.
Bishop Ma’s ordination seems to have made state leaders feel perplexed and forget the value of religions. When a person has freedom to believe in a religion, the state should respect his right to join or quit any religious organization, manifesting their broad-mindedness and recognition of religious freedom.
No matter good or bad, the Shanghai incident is worthy of our reflection, but not to put more pressure on the prelate. Space should be given for him to move freely. Only by doing so will religious faithful feel the state’s commitment to protecting their religions.
The pope is in fact a spiritual but not political leader. State leaders across the world respect the pope and have established friendship with him. The former leader of the Cuban Communist party, Fidel Castro, met the pope this year during a papal visit to the country, while the Vietnamese Communist leaders also pay high respect to the Pope and exchange ideas through their envoys.
It comes to my mind that the Vietnamese Communists learned the reform and open-door policy from their Chinese counterparts, which facilitated the economic boom and made China a world power.
The Chinese Communists, in another way round, should learn from the Vietnamese the respect and support for religions.
Chen Qian is a Catholic layperson in mainland China
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