Church in China: Still a Long Way to Go

Interview with Taiwanese Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2002 ( China has become one of John Paul II´s principal missionary concerns, says a Taiwanese cardinal whose episcopate made its quinquennial «ad limina» visit to the Holy See, Jan. 21-31.

Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi talked with the Vatican agency Fides about his encounter with the Pope.

Q: Your Eminence, how would you assess your «ad limina» visit?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi: We have been in Rome for 10 days and we met the Pope three times. Each of us had a private meeting with him. The Pope is very interested in our missionary work in our dioceses and in relations between the Church in Taiwan and the Church in China.

In 1984 the Holy Father gave the bishops of Taiwan a special task: to be a bridge between the Church in China and the universal Church. The Pope supports us in this mission, which is fundamental.

Q: How are you working to be a bridge-Church?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi: With very humble means we try to do our best. Firstly by praying for the Church in China, and then we help the Church in China above all promoting reconciliation between underground and official believers.

If we compare the present day with 1984, 18 years later there is much more contact between Christians in Taiwan and Christians in mainland China. We have published liturgical books together; Church documents translated in Taiwan are used in China. But our efforts are mainly for reconciliation: Both branches of the Church have suffered persecution and they share the same faith.

Most official Catholics recognize the Pope as the leader and teacher of the universal faith. And they also suffer much government control. When full religious freedom is obtained, the two branches of the Church will show that they are deeply united.

Q: In recent years the Vatican has made several steps toward Beijing, the Pope has often voiced his love for the Chinese people.

Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi: The Church is sincere and she is anxious to promote dialogue and relations with Beijing. But so far I see no positive reaction or sign from China. Diplomatic relations between the Holy See and China do not seem to be a priority on China´s agenda.

At the end of this year there will be a Communist Party congress and a change in leadership, and this is the main concern of the present leaders. The future leadership, which has not yet emerged, is afraid to say anything that might trigger a war of power. I fear we will have to wait two or three years before we see any sign. The new leadership must be formed and its power consolidated.

Q: But would Beijing gain by granting full religious freedom and establishing relations with the Vatican?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi: China already plays an important political and economic role in the world. But if it were to guarantee full religious freedom and establish relations with the Holy See, the country´s prestige would increase superlatively.

If it were to adopt policies of democracy and respect, world esteem for China would soar, people would begin to trust China and it would really become an international power with full prestige.

Q: What about the mission of the Church in Taiwan? Has the visit to Rome prompted new ideas?

Cardinal Shan Kuo-hsi: We are very clear about our mission. We must help society rediscover spiritual values. Taiwan today is a society of materialism. People are only interested in material things. As Church, we must propose spiritual values.

First of all, we must strengthen the values of the family. Chinese culture gives great importance to the family: the center for educating children and the foundation for a stable society. Unfortunately today there are many divorces, broken homes and separated families.

There is urgent need of pastoral care to support Catholic families, to help them be full of faith, hope, and love so they can be evangelizing signs for non-Christian families. In this intent we will strive in the work of evangelization to involve the laity and religious more, as well as parishes, to make them truly family-communities. The problem of separated families is acute also in mainland China.

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