Eminent Mission for Chinese Catholics

After talking with a Chinese-American seminarian at breakfast the other day, I realized that one aspect of the faith most Americans don’t hear enough about is Catholic Church in China’s struggle for autonomy. Although being in Rome has heightened my senses to this phenomenon, the fact is that China’s Communist government every day is suppressing millions of Catholics, and that the authentic Catholic Church in China continually fights for independence from the state-run ‘Church,’ backed by Beijing. Pope Benedict XVI has taken considerable steps this year in working on behalf of his oriental flock, most notably releasing a Letter to Chinese Catholics in May of 2007. In the letter, the pope speaks of his compassion for those Catholics suffering at the hands of the government, and assures them that their struggles do not go without notice. He also vows his pastoral care and imparts his fatherly wisdom to the suffering community:

I wish, therefore, to convey to all of you the expression of my fraternal closeness. With intense joy I acknowledge your faithfulness to Christ the Lord and to the Church, a faithfulness that you have manifested “sometimes at the price of grave sufferings,” since “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29). Nevertheless, some important aspects of the ecclesial life of your country give cause for concern. Without claiming to deal with every detail of the complex matters well known to you, I wish through this letter to offer some guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of evangelization in China, in order to help you discover what the Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, “the key, the centre and the purpose of the whole of human history” wants from you.

And what is it that Christ wants of his Church? Be it in China or elsewhere—America included—the mission of the Church “is to proclaim Christ to men and women, as the Savior of the world, basing herself—in carrying out her proper apostolate—on the power of God.” (Letter, 4) Specifically notable of the case of the Church in China is the issue of atheism, which no doubt permeates modern thought, society and culture, and is the fundamental obstacle of the Catholic Church (in my opinion) in the twenty-first century. This apostolate to preach Christ as Savior, relying “on the power of God,” speaks strongly of the effects of atheistic thought. The ‘power of God’ has been all but forgotten, and the power of governments and man has been assumed as the summum bonum toward which we ought to strive. In short, modern atheism (as I have written about before) is not so much an absence of the divine as most would believe, but rather an imposition of something finite and base into the realm of divinity. For Feuerbach, it was man’s absolute qualities; for Comte, it was ‘Humanity’; for Marxists and the Chinese government, it is the will of the state.

Struggling against the god of Communist ideology, the Church in China is in a perfect place to show the rest of the world just what it means to truly be Catholic. Not only is the Enemy utilizing the Beijing government itself to suppress authentic Catholicism, but also the officially sanctioned ‘Catholic Church’ of China, whose doctrines and clergy are both subjugated to the authority of the state. In addition, the authentic Church is battling the centuries-old mentality of the East, which has always been highly critical of all western influence, and in particular western religious and moral views. Catholic martyrs in China—particularly Jesuit and other religious missionaries—give evidence to the gravity of this situation. Nowadays, the martyrs are much less known, but without doubt there are still great amounts of blood being shed for the faith each day. As Tertullian writes, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians,” and the fruit to be borne from such suffering and struggle will certainly show forth the glory and Providence of God, just as the blood of the old martyrs has given abundant life in the countries where they preached.

We ought not to lose focus on the goal of the Christian mission: to teach Jesus Christ as Savior of all men and women, and to rely in all things on the power of God. This charge of Pope Benedict is particularly relevant in today’s relativistic and consumeristic world, and no doubt will be the labor of the Church until Christ comes again to reclaim all things for himself.