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China’s state leader meets Catholic representatives

Party’s central committee attaches great importance to religious works, says Yu Zhengsheng
China’s state leader meets Catholic representatives

Yu Zhengsheng, chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a top leader of the Communist Party, meets with key Catholic leaders at the Great Hall of the People on Dec 29, 2016. (Screen shot from CCTV news)

Published: December 30, 2016 10:35 AM GMT
Updated: December 31, 2016 10:37 AM GMT

A meeting with a Chinese state leader and a Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament officially concluded the Ninth National Congress of Catholic Representatives of the government sanctioned open church community on Dec 29.

The 365 participants comprised bishops, priests, nuns and lay leaders who elected officials of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of Catholic Church in China (BCCCC). They also discussed the work report of the two government-sanctioned church bodies in the first two days of the meeting that began Dec. 27.

Before meeting with the state leader, a closing ceremony was presided over by Bishop Zhan Silu of Mindong, who was re-elected vice president of the BCCCC and who was ordained without Vatican approval.

The participants were then greeted by Yu Zhengsheng, chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and one of the top leaders of the Communist Party, at the Great Hall of the People.

The CPPCC is a top political advisory body that consists of delegates from various social sectors including religions.

Yu told the Catholic congress that the Party’s central committee attaches great importance to religious works and reiterated the main points of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech during the National Conference of Religious Affairs in April that called for the "Sinicization" of religion which means making foreign religions more Chinese.

About 400 Catholics, including some local laypeople and priests, attended the Benediction at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Beijing, commonly known as the South Church.

A Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, rather than a Mass, would soften any resistance coming from bishops who have dual approval from both the Vatican and the Chinese government to be associated in a Mass with government-backed bishops who are not yet recognized by the Holy See.

Many Chinese Catholics have rejected the congress, considering it to be incompatible with Catholic doctrine in its advocacy of an independent church and for its leaders serving as "rubber stamps" to pass all government-controlled motions.

"The congress is a kind of formality that cannot be avoided under the current [political] situation. It was good that it was held in a low-key way," Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher at the Hong Kong diocesan Holy Spirit Study Centre, told ucanews.com.

"Replacing a concelebrated Mass with a Benediction is also a good thing. So we don’t need to be too critical of the congress itself," he said.


Prospects for the near future

However, Lam takes note of the remarks by Wang Zuo’an, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, who asked that the Vatican "take a more flexible and pragmatic attitude" during his talk on the first day of the congress.

"It shows that there is a big difference between China and the Holy See. China may not give up its authority over the church easily," Lam said.

A Chinese researcher who asked not to be named similarly pointed to a conspicuous Dec 29 news release on the State Administration of Religious Affairs website.

The statement about the congress stressed the word "insist" three times: insisting on the principle of an independent church and that the congress of representatives is the foundation of the China Church; insisting that the church be run in a democratic way as well as pushing for a Sinicized theology in connection with the future of the China Church; and insisting in the building up of talented personnel as a way to sustainably develop the China Church.

Nonetheless, Lam observed there is likely to be a shakeup in Wang’s department in 2017 because the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection had sharply criticized its work in June.


Church development since last congress

On Dec 30, the CPPCC’s news website gave a more detailed account of the work report delivered by Bishop Ma Yinglin of Kunming on the first day of the congress. Bishop Ma was re-elected head of the bishops’ conference.

Since the last congress in 2010, the China Church has ordained or installed bishops in 16 dioceses and has held programs on management for bishops and diocesan administrators for six consecutive years.

The China Church now has 65 bishops, about 3,100 priests and 5,800 nuns with more than 6 million laypeople in over 6,000 churches and mission stations. It has nine major seminaries with 468 seminarians.

There are 619 patriotic organizations across China, with 561 of them established at district and county levels, according to the work report presented at the congress.

There are also 259 Catholic social service organizations across China running 121 homes for the aged, eight hospitals, 99 clinics, 10 orphanages, 13 kindergartens and eight charity foundations.

They have donated more than 185 million yuan (about US$27 million) to the needy through different programs for victims of natural disasters, people living with HIV/AIDS or leprosy, uneducated children and the lonely elderly, to name a few.

These figures, however, belong only to the open community and exclude personnel and donations from the underground church community. 

The Holy Spirit Study Centre in the 2016 Spring issue of its quarterly journal Tripodestimated that there are about 10 million Catholics in China, a total of 112 bishops, 3,800 priests and 4,500 nuns as of 2015.

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