A Catholic Church in China with Chinese characteristics

A fresh approach from the Vatican is in the wind involving culture, the laity and the digital world
A Catholic Church in China with Chinese characteristics

A cross-bearer prepares to enter a Catholic church for Christmas Eve Mass in Beijing. (Photo by Wang Zhao/AFP)

Influential sources close to the Vatican have made a strong statement about accepting China culture — including that of the ruling Communist Party — into the church's strategy in dealing with the People's Republic.

In a period when it claims that Chinese people are encountering a spiritual crisis, there is a strong call for 21st Century thinking in a lengthy article in respected Rome based periodical La Civilita Cattolica.

In a rare move, the subscription only periodical, published with the approval of the Vatican's Secretariat of State, has published a 3,500-word article on "Catholicism in 21st Century China" by Joseph You Guo Jiang, SJ.

It also focuses on the importance of skill development for evangelization and mission among the laity in the world's most populous nation. China, like so many other places in the Catholic Church, is suffering a crisis in attracting people to the priesthood and religious congregations as well as in harnessing digital technology for its mission.

It posits the fresh thinking about a Catholic Church in China with Chinese characteristics that will offer to both Church and people hope, faith and a promising future.

"Only when the Chinese Catholic Church goes beyond its own realm to embrace and appreciate other aspects of human life will it make a significant contribution to the cultural, spiritual and even social development of Chinese society. The Church does not only offer sacramental and religious services but can also dialogue with Chinese traditions and cultures through its rich history in arts, music, literature and poetry.

"It has been long held that the Catholic Church can contribute to China's spiritual civilization process. For example, Church teachings on love, harmony, peace, justice, filial piety, marriage values, social stability and family values etc. are features that Chinese Catholic Church can preserve and with them attempt to revitalize Chinese culture and tradition."

The release of the piece underscores the importance that Pope Francis places on the Catholic Church in China. He has said that Asia will be a key focus of his pontificate. At present, the Vatican is focused on ongoing talks between the Holy See and Beijing about restarting official relations that will allow the normalizing of the appointment of bishops.

This article in La Civilta Cattolica lays out a broader and new policy for the development of the church in China. The first public expression of policy was laid out by the pope in an interview with Beijing based Italian journalist, Francesco Sisci, that moved beyond Pope Benedict's 2012 Letter to Catholics in China. The letter from Pope Benedict aimed to open the Church up to dialogue with China.

"The Chinese Catholic Church and its leaders at different levels cannot do anything but accelerate the planning and process of laity formation and to develop sustainable laity formation programs. Church leaders, such as parish priests and bishops, should continue to empower the laity to take more leadership roles in the Church's mission and service and seek out those who are sufficiently qualified and professional to support Church's activities."

Contemporary China faces many social and ethical problems, Jiang added.

"Young Catholics, the hope of the future Church, are trying to understand how to integrate faith into their lives and relate it to other social needs. They want to develop an effective adult ministry, one that asks for greater collaboration and co-operation between clergy and adult leadership. This requires taking the initiative and providing regular activities."

Another key aspect of the new thinking on China proposed in the article is to leverage digital technology because the internet has deeply changed the Chinese social structure and relationships.

"Although the government continues to monitor and censor the internet, it has nevertheless become a main source and window of information and knowledge. It has influenced and will continue to influence the ethical knowledge and decision making of Chinese from all sectors of life, particularly the younger generation. There are a few popular Catholic websites that provide basic information and knowledge of the Church. However, more needs to be done officially and professionally," Jiang writes.

"Many dioceses' websites are neither updated frequently nor do they function well. In an era of the internet and mass media, the Chinese Catholic Church must readjust its mission strategy by adopting more social network methods for its services and ministries."

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Jiang added that it is important that the Chinese Catholic Church utilizes newer information technologies such as WeChat, Sina blog, Weibo (microblog) and other mass media platforms "to evangelize Chinese people and to share gospel values in a more efficient and effective way."

His conclusion is that the Chinese Catholic Church must heed the needs of others, discern the signs of time and respond to them more promptly and efficiently. He adds that the Chinese Catholic Church needs to train a leadership team with vision and educate its clergy, and that both religious congregations and laity must discern new ways to realize its mission.

To read "Catholicism in 21st Century China" by Joseph You Guo Jiang, SJ in full click here.

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