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Chinese remember Blessed John Paul

Catholics say JP2's care and support helped revive China Church

Fengxiang diocese in central Shaanxi province celebrates the beatification of Pope John Paul II Fengxiang diocese in central Shaanxi province celebrates the beatification of Pope John Paul II
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
  • China
  • May 6, 2011
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The beatification of Pope John Paul II was a heartening and comforting event for many Catholics in mainland China.

They prayed that the new blessed will “continue to pray for the China Church so that we can reach full communion with the universal Church soon,” said a young bishop in eastern China.

The blessed was well remembered by Chinese Catholics because his long pontificate coincided with the revival and flourishing development of the China Church.

Two months after Karol Wojtyla was elected the new pope in October 1978, the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party in China was convened. The Beijing meeting decided to introduce China’s open door policy and redressed mishandled cases during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

As a result, Catholic clergy who survived prisons and reform-through-labor farms were released back to their dioceses. Church activities gradually revived thanks to their efforts.

During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II showed great concern toward the China Church, which had been isolated from the universal Church for three decades. It was also easier for him, having lived through the communist era in Poland, to understand its plight.

Bishop Luke Li Jingfeng of Fengxiang, 90, said the late pope was his contemporary and “we came through a difficult seminarian life during the Second World War in our respective countries.”

His encyclicals, especially the Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) on moral theology (1993), have guided the Second Vatican Council’s new liberal thoughts, showing a clear direction for the China Church, said the bishop.

During his papacy, Pope John Paul named three Chinese cardinals, Ignatius Gong Pinmei of Shanghai (1979), John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung of Hong Kong (1988) and Paul Shan Kuo-hsi of Kaohsiung (1998).

On October 1, 2000, China’s National Day, he canonized 120 China martyrs (87 Chinese and 33 foreign missionaries) who were killed between 1648 and 1930. During the resulting spat with an angry Beijing government, he wrote to President Jiang Zemin to explain the canonizations were intended to honor the Chinese people.

The following year, Pope John Paul wrote a message for the 400th anniversary of Father Matteo Ricci’s arrival in Beijing. He asked Chinese people for forgiveness for errors committed by Christians in the 19th and 20th centuries. He also proposed the normalization of ties with Beijing, but the authorities did not respond.

Father Peter Peng Jiandao of Handan recalled the late pope often saying “A good Christian is also a good Chinese” when speaking about China. “This inspired me most since there is no opposition to being loyal to the country and the Church at the same time.”

Throughout his pontificate, the late pope granted the China Church special faculties (authorizations) to meet its pastoral needs in difficult times. Bishops were permitted to ordain young men with charity, strong faith and loyalty to the Church as priests, even though they had not received formal theological education. Priests could also go beyond their diocesan boundaries to help dioceses which lacked clergy.

As a result, Father Peng said many dioceses gradually restored the Church structure after religious activities were suspended for three decades. “Every faculty or papal message on China let Chinese clerics and laypeople feel the care of the Holy Father,” the former “underground” priest said.

In 1988, an “Eight-Point Directive on Dealings with China” issued by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples was widely circulated in the mainland.

It required Catholics to avoid sacramental communion with bishops and priests belonging to the government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association. It also advised laypeople to look for priests in communion with the pope when they attended Mass and received the sacraments.

Without the faculties and the directives, underground lay leader Joseph Huang pointed out that the underground community, which is loyal to the pope and has no affiliation with the “open” Church structure, could not exist amid difficult conditions in the early days.

In fact, Pope John Paul refrained from transmitting concrete directives to the China Church which has made Father Peter Wang appreciate the pope’s wisdom of “inaction.”

During the chaos amongst the open and underground communities, some Church observers outside China made remarks, which were used by some people to attack each other, noted the open priest.

However, the pope never criticized or did things that might hurt the China Church. Instead, he showed care and patience as a loving father and prayed for China every day for its unity and communion, said Father Wang.

Many Catholics admire the late pope’s call for Hong Kong and Taiwan to act as a “Bridging Church” to help their suffering mainland compatriots, his willingness to dialogue with Beijing, and his diplomatic reconciliation moves.

With some Chinese Catholics beginning to read Blessed John Paul’s writings and watch documentary videos about him it is hoped his good example can inspire people to continue serving the Church and society, spread the Gospel and build God’s Kingdom on earth.

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