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Sinicization seminar divides priests in China's Shandong

One priest says it is 'absurd' to accept the leadership of an atheist party

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

UCA News reporter, Hong Kong

Updated: July 30, 2020 07:56 AM GMT
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Sinicization seminar divides priests in China's Shandong

The head of a Marian statue stands among the ruins of Qianwang Catholic Church in Shandong province after it was demolished on Aug. 13, 2018. (Photo supplied)

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Catholic officials in Shandong province are planning a symposium to explain the Sinicization of the Chinese Church, but not all are happy.

Shandong’s Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and provincial Church Affairs Committee (CAC) are organizing the event with the theme “Catholic theological thought in a new era."

Father Peter, a local priest, told UCA News that he does not know the details of the event, such as the date and venue, but he expects it to be in Jinan like previous events.

A notice issued by the organizers on July 17 asked priests to write lectures in line with the Sinicization of religion, interpreting faith and Catholic thought in line with Chinese traditions and culture.

The notice has been sent to all nine dioceses in Shandong, one of several Catholic pockets in China.

Father Wei Lei said he plans to attend the program because the Sinicization of religion was necessary.

“After all, we are Chinese, not foreigners, and our country is different, so it has to be in line with our national conditions," he said.

"Our social situation is to accept the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. In order to do a good job, we have to integrate faith in traditional Chinese culture and follow faith in line with the Chinese people."

But Father Peter said those attending the program would be betraying the Church. "I cannot accept the leadership of an atheist party — this is absurd," he said.

He said urging priests to present the Catholic faith as part of Chinese culture is a tactic to make the Church a puppet of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

He said Christians can accept Chinese painting, architecture and literature as expressions of faith. However, accepting traditional culture as a tool to interpret Christian faith aims to make the Church submissive to the party.

Church's degradation

Traditional Chinese culture is a mixture of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, Father Peter said. The teachings of Confucius and Lao Tzu are ways of making people submissive to rulers.

"Can we use such a thing to explain Christian faith that stands for justice and democracy and faith sharing?" he asked.

Father Peter said Shandong is the hometown of Confucius and added that the Church "will be harmed if traditional culture, represented by the teachings of Confucius, is now used to explain the Catholic faith."

Father Joseph, another priest in the province, said he is upset because of the nature of the symposium’s organizers. “The CPA is not at all a bridge between the government and the Church. It is a puppet of the government," he said.

Before the communist regime was established, missionaries of the Franciscans and the Society of the Divine Word ran the Church in Shandong. They managed seminaries, schools and orphanages but also published books and newspapers and had great social influence, Father Joseph said.

But the current bishops have been made obedient to the centralized power of the government, even participating in CCP activities and wearing red clothes for photographs.

Father Paul Chang of Hebei province said that ever since the CCP came to power, the Church in Shandong has bribed Catholics to be accomplices of state agents in oppressing the Church.

Two of the most famous are Anthony Liu Bainian, who become known as the “mainland pope,” and Bishop Fang Xingyao of Linyi. They have followed the orders of the party and betrayed the Church, especially by presiding over and participating in many illegal ordinations, Father Chang said.

Zhang Qiang, a Shandong Catholic, said the number of Catholics is dwindling in the region "because the priests are not evangelizing. Each death means one less Catholic. Even the number of priests is falling."

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