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Meeting raises questions over Beijing's motives

Concern at possible central government interest in Church

Meeting raises questions over Beijing's motives
Participants make pilgrimage to Our Lady of Rosary Shrine in Fuzhou diocese after the meeting reporter, Ningde

October 12, 2011

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The presence of a top official at a recent meeting of the “open” Church has raised concerns that Beijing may be seeking tighter control of the Church in China. Organized by the Committee for Pastoral Care and Evangelization, with the backing of the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), the meeting took place in Ningde, Fujian province, in late September. The Committee for Pastoral Care and Evangelization is one of the new bodies that were formed at the National Congress of Catholic Representatives last December. According to a report on the official website of the CCPA and BCCCC, 10 bishops, 13 priests, a nun and eight laypersons attended the event. It was addressed by deputy minister Zhu Weiqun of the United Front Work Department, who traveled from Beijing specially for the meeting. Zhu stated repeatedly that the primary task of the Church is to hold fast to patriotism. He added that its theology should be framed within a Chinese context and that its faithful should be guided “to walk a path compatible with China’s socialist society.” He also said the two national Church authorities must “not be ambiguous but be firm on the independent Church principle” and should boost their political awareness. At the same meeting, the participants agreed to publish a pastoral message, making full use of online media, which would encourage a sense of evangelism among the congregations. Father Joseph Yang Yu, spokesman for the two bodies, said he expected the final text of the message to be completed during October. Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Mindong, head of the committee, said he hoped “the message will draw responses from across the country and let the outside world know that the China Church shares responsibility for evangelization with the universal Church.” Among the 10 bishops who attended, three are not recognized by the Vatican. They include Bishop Zhan himself and the BCCCC president,  Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin. One participant, who has requested anonymity, said he “felt uncomfortable” for Zhu and other government officials to be present at  the meeting, which was “supposed to be purely a discussion and an exchange of experiences.” However, he said he thought the meeting would have little concrete effect; the CCPA and BCCCC have only a limited influence in local Churches and in some places they are positively resisted. He added that, in his opinion, Zhu’s presence was intended to demonstrate that Beijing was paying attention to the meeting and wanted to support Bishop Zhan at his base in Ningde. Fujian province is a stronghold of the underground Church community, in which 90 percent of Mindong diocese’s Catholics go to the underground community. A priest-blogger, whose pen name is “Shanren,” believes Zhu’s statement shows that Beijing is still trying to control the Church, despite the official policy of separating religion from politics. “It is a big insult to Christians in China, to say they do not love their country and need a patriotic association to guide them,” he wrote. “The China Church should bear witness only to the truth and avoid promoting pastoral and evangelistic works that take the form of political slogans.” Related reports: ‘Open’ Church leaders take study tour China’s young bishops take the reins Chinese bishops attend govt’s study session
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