A young lay person from northern China talks about the difficulties that followed the signing of the Agreement. Fr John understands Pope Francis' sense of mercy towards official bishops and priests. Repression has increased against other religious groups, in particular Protestants.
Rome (AsiaNews) – “I call on the Holy Father not to renew the Agreement with China, because this could threaten the survival of the Church in China, driving us onto the path of despair,” writes Benedict, an underground Catholic in northern China.
He and Fr John, a priest in northern China, have added their voices to AsiaNews‘s investigation into the situation of the Church in China a few months before the provisional agreement between China and the Holy See comes to an end.
Benedict's bitter cry is complemented by the clergyman’s sober thoughts. The latter says he understands the motive behind the pontiff’s move, which is to show mercy towards the priests and bishops in the official Church, who are caught between the need to show obedience to the regime and their allegiance to the Church.
Two other elements emerge from these two stories. The first one is that the state’s repression against the Church is directed towards other religions as well, in particular Protestants. The second is that the crackdown is not uniformly applied across this vast country. Fr John notes that government officials, following their conscience, have protected the freedom of some communities, at their own risk and peril.
In my opinion, Sino-Vatican talks and negotiations reflect the Pope's concern and care for the Church in China. He has tried every way possible to break the chains that tie our bodies and hearts. For some, this makes sense because they no longer have to endure the problems of [legal or illegal] consecration or sacramental communion caused by China.
Often in the past, some people have taken advantage of the Pope’s benevolence; for the salvation of people, he has always forgiven, and has never managed to be so hard-hearted to punish or abandon them, always willing to free their hearts from chains and burdens. But the truth of the matter is that the hearts of these people have never felt the weight of their burden. Most critically, the Pope has perhaps underestimated some people’s desire for power, their willingness to hold total control over the Church.
I can guarantee you that the pressure exerted on the Church in various places is getting greater and greater, until she is destroyed or at least her influence is weakened, except where the Church replaces the source of her faith with that of the Great Leader Kim il-sung" [a caustic moniker for Xi Jinping]. In some places, such replacement has already been done. In a sense, the Agreement has almost legitimised the pursuit of this goal.
If the Pope had not unconsciously justified this, this would have continued without hesitation, the only difference being that its promoters would have lacked a screen to hide their intent. For instance, in a diocese or parish in Hujian [probably Fujian], priests were asked to register their names and locations, or else, their activities would not have been authorised.
In "Huonan" [probably Henan], a diocese or parish has already registered, with a ban on minors going to church, on pain of being shut down. In one parish, minors are already not allowed to go to church; and later, when the church seemingly failed to comply with coronavirus restrictions, it was closed to the public.
Elsewhere, if a county has too many Protestant churches, up to a dozen can be asked to close, with government officials citing any number of reasons to do so, such as the congregation is too small or citing its financial problems. In any case, the officials’ work is done.
This does not happen everywhere. Even in the darkest moments of history, some officials have acted conscientiously and protected the innocent. However, some fear that they too may face problems in an increasingly difficult environment. I think that the Pope cannot save us from this situation. The best thing is to leave things be, or perhaps wait [for a solution] in the next generation.
Father John, priest, northern China
Compared to the Church in the south, our situation was rather quiet. In the past few years, we have had a relatively stable situation with fairly regular Sunday Masses, solemn Masses and prayer activities. All this ended with the signing of the Sino-Vatican Provisional Agreement on 22 September 2018.
Before Christmas 2018, government officials came to tell us that our meeting place would be banned. They warned our priests not to celebrate Mass or engage in other prayer activities which they deemed illegal. Now we have nowhere to pray, hold Mass or any performs any other sacraments, not to mention Sunday and solemn Masses. We rarely see our priest, who comes to celebrate Mass every two weeks.
As a result of the pandemic, government controls have tightened, so that we can hold a Mass only every two or three months. Does Rome really know about our sufferings, efforts, cries and tears? Does Rome see any of this? Can she hear it?
We heard that the agreement could be renewed. On behalf of all the faithful in the underground Church, I call on the Holy Father not to renew the Agreement with China because this could threaten the survival of the Church in China, driving us onto the path of despair. I ask the Holy Father to take what I say seriously; I hope that the Holy Father will pray for all the priests and faithful of the Church in China, as well as for Hong Kong!
Benedict, lay person, northern China