Church in China Overcoming Forced Division

Interview With Journalist and Missionary Father Cervellera

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ROME, SEPT. 26, 2003 ( The Catholic Church in China is overcoming the division caused by the Communist regime with the so-called patriotic church, says a missionary-journalist.

Father Bernardo Cervellera, missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, director of Asianews and former director of the Fides agency, outlined his ideas in a new book, «Missione Cina: Viaggio nell’Impero tra mercato e repressione» (Chinese Mission: Journey in the Empire Between Market and Repression). The priest talked about China with ZENIT.

Q: What is the present situation in China? Father Cervellera: China is going through one of the greatest political and social transitions of its history: from being an ultra-Communist country, it is becoming a country of unbridled capitalism.

This is causing changes in mentality and customs, especially among young people. At the same time, for the first time since the Communists took power, between November 2002 and March 2003, there has been a change without violence of the leaders of the party and of the nation.

Q: What are the challenges these new leaders are facing?

Father Cervellera: The difference between the rich and poor, unemployment in the cities, and the abandonment of the countryside, the modernization of production and trade to be able to keep up with international competition.

The enormous technical and commercial development is contrasted with miserable development in the field of human rights and religious freedom. And yet, religions are experiencing a great moment of development, thanks to the crisis of Communist materialism and the incipient crisis of consumerist materialism.

Religion could become the motor of a harmonious development of the most populous country of the planet.

Q: However, don’t you think that economic development might make people forget the spiritual void?

Father Cervellera: China has an economy that seems to be brimming with health. Last year, the GNP grew by 8.5%. But this wealth is in the hands of a few, while the people are enslaved with very low salaries.

At present, there are 170 million unemployed without social security. The health service no longer exists. Schools are abandoned to their fate, and freedom of association is denied, despite [China] having signed the U.N. conventions, and the commitments assumed by the government.

Q: And Chinese culture?

Father Cervellera: The Heavenly Empire, full of benevolence, art and culture, which so fascinated the West, no longer exists.

Today China is governed by a corrupt, unscrupulous ruling class which has abandoned Communism at the economic level, but which continues to maintain the same control of the population. We are before a new merciless empire.

Q: What is the situation of believers?

Father Cervellera: Although those in power try to suffocate and deny it, an exceptional phenomenon is taking place: growth of the religious experience, especially the Christian.

It is estimated that there are 2 million baptisms a year, despite the fact the Church continues to be persecuted.

Another little known fact is the re-composition of the division of the Catholic Church in China. At least 85% of the bishops of the patriotic church — controlled by the regime, which tried to impose on it independence from Rome — works at present with the underground Church and considers itself in communion with the Pope.

Q: Given certain abuses, some countries are asking for an economic embargo or taxes on Chinese products.

Father Cervellera: I would not tax Chinese products. I would exert pressure in the area of civil rights, asking for the guarantee of freedom of association, freedom of worship, and human rights, social services, proper working conditions, health services and freedom of education.

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