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Pope says faith in China safeguarded by God

Pope Francis calls on Chinese Catholics to show faith on the 100th anniversary of 'Concilium Sinense' in Shanghai
Pope Francis' video message broadcast at the Pontifical Urban University.

Pope Francis' video message broadcast at the Pontifical Urban University. (Photo: Vatican News)

Published: May 22, 2024 05:15 AM GMT
Updated: May 22, 2024 05:17 AM GMT

The Lord has safeguarded the faith of the people of God in China, Pope Francis said.

"And the faith of God's people has been the compass that has shown the way" to Christians in China throughout history and until today, he said in a video message to people taking part in an international conference in Rome May 21.

"Those who follow Jesus love peace, and find themselves together with all those who work for peace, in a time in which we see inhuman forces at work that seem to want to accelerate the end of the world," he said.

The pope's video message was played at the beginning of a one-day conference marking the 100th anniversary of the first and, so far, only Council of the Chinese Catholic Church. The conference was organized by the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome together with Fides, a Vatican news agency, and the Pastoral Commission for China.

The council, referred to as the "Concilium Sinense," was held in Shanghai in 1924 and was attended, for the most part, by foreign-born bishops, vicars general, religious and priests who went to China as missionaries, according to a report by Fides.

Archbishop Celso Costantini, the then-apostolic delegate in China, led the council with the aim of revitalizing the mission of the church in China in light of Pope Benedict XV's recognition that faith in Christ "does not belong exclusively to a certain nation" and that becoming a Christian does not mean submitting to "foreign tutelage," Fides said May 14.

The council, Fides said, came up with "detailed provisions to promote and accompany the flourishing of a native church with Chinese bishops and priests being entrusted with the leadership of local communities" and "to counteract the colonial mentality that had also penetrated church practices."

Archbishop Costantini "simply repeated that the mission of the church was to 'evangelize, not colonize,'" the pope said in his video message.

Those gathered at the council "all made an authentic synodal journey and signed the provisions that opened up new paths, so that the Catholic Church in China could also increasingly have a Chinese face," the pope said.

They recognized that "Christ's proclamation of salvation can only reach every human community and every single person if it speaks in their 'mother tongue,'" he said.

"The church's journey through history has been through unforeseen paths, even through times of patience and trial," he said. "The Lord in China has safeguarded the faith of the people of God along the way."

"Chinese Catholics, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, walk in the present time. In the context in which they live, they also bear witness to their faith through works of mercy and charity, and in their witness they give a real contribution to the harmony of social coexistence, to the building of the common home," he said.

"We too, like the council fathers of Shanghai, can look to the future" and "open paths to be undertaken with boldness to proclaim and bear witness to the Gospel in the present," he said.

Among those speaking at the conference was Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state.
He told reporters he hoped the Vatican's diplomatic arm could have some kind of "stable presence in China," according to Vatican News.

"Even if initially it may not take the form of a pontifical representative and an apostolic nunciature, nevertheless it could increase and deepen our contacts. This is our goal" regarding advancing diplomatic relations between the two countries, he said.

Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai also spoke at the conference.

"We will continue to build the church in China into a holy and Catholic Church that conforms to God's will, accepts China's excellent traditional cultural heritage, and is appreciated by Chinese society today," he said, according to Vatican News.

He said the church in China "has always remained faithful to its Catholic faith, albeit with great effort to constantly adapt to the new political system" adopted in 1949 with the proclamation of the People's Republic of China.

"The religious freedom policy implemented by the Chinese government has had no interest in changing the Catholic faith, but only hopes that the Catholic clergy and faithful will defend the interests of the Chinese people and free themselves from the control of foreign powers," the bishop said.

The problems in the past between the church and state in China were due in part to the "strong sense of European cultural superiority" of some missionaries, who "even intended to use the Christian religion to change Chinese society and culture," he said. That attitude was "opposed and even detested by many Chinese" and "hindered a greater spread of the Gospel of love among the Chinese people."

Bishop Shen said the priests and faithful in China are called "to love their country and their church and to closely link the development of the church with the welfare of the people."

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