The Joys of China (Part 1)

The Smiles of a Suffering Church Revealed

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By Mark Miravalle

STEUBENVILLE, Ohio, NOV. 9, 2008 ( To speak of joy within a Church consistently persecuted by the most powerful Communist government in the world seems like flippancy, or worse, a contradiction.

It is a mystery innately connected to the heart of Christianity — a religion which holds up as its climactic victory the tortuous death of its savior God-man on a cross, two beams of wood nailed together by the sins of each living human being, my sins and your sins. And yet, the full truth must be told, and that includes the full truth about the Catholic Church in China: a people typically denied their fundamental human rights and religious freedoms, but a Christian people triumphant in heart and in joy.

As soon as I entered a major Chinese airport recently, as a follow-up visit after the publication of my book «The Seven Sorrows of China,» and handed off a suitcase full of smuggled medical supplies to some guardian angels from the West who take care of God’s precious — and China’s most neglected — children, I was hurried away to a vehicle by an excited Catholic priest who was a native Chinese teaching in a seminary in a neighboring country.

As we drove away from the airport, the Chinese priest was quick to inform me that he had read my previous book, «The Seven Sorrows of China,» and, while complimentary and confirming of the value and accuracy of the text from an inside perspective, he was also adamant in stating that the book was in one way incomplete. “It is a beautiful book and has many good things,” he noted, “but now I challenge you to write something on the ‘Joyful Mysteries of China.’ If you give only the sorrowful side, it will not encourage the people. Jesus had the sorrows of his passion, but also his joys and glories. You must also write about the victories that are happening in the Church in China right now.”

Another side

I wondered what precisely he meant. The first book, which I had not planned before arriving in China, was from my journal of my previous visit to this land. It recounted intense experiences of tragic day-by-day realities for the Chinese people and the Chinese Church. I had recorded incidents such as the mandatory cremation of a neglected child who died after having been rejected by a federal Chinese orphanage and then cared for and loved by a private foreign orphanage, and my meetings with women who had to flee from government and family in order to have a child against the abortion policies of state and clan. I had interviewed a saintly underground Chinese bishop under house arrest following 20 plus years of imprisonment and house arrests, and learned about the documentable government persecutions of bishops, priests, and faithful who refuse to cooperate in any way with the government and its official “patriotic” church. I had related the story of an inspiring region where Catholic-style solidarity enabled a heroic Catholic community to effectually ward off the government’s one-child policy in their families of four, five, six, and even eight children.

What, then, was this Chinese Catholic priest asking of me? In the «Seven Sorrows» book, I was not in any way downplaying the heroic witness of Chinese Catholics. Quite the contrary. In fact, I had been advised by certain Catholic watchdog organizations to avoid granting too many details about the powerful spiritual victories of the humble Chinese Church, lest it result in a new wave of persecutions by the regional religious affairs bureaus of the central Beijing government. And yet, the residual taste in this priest’s mouth after reading «Seven Sorrows,» whether justified or not, was that it did not adequately pay homage to the joys, the victories, the growth and development of the Catholic Church in China taking place in spite of the severe persecutions.

Nonetheless, the priest’s conviction about the importance of witnessing to the Gospel joy of Jesus and the contemporary joys of Chinese Catholics convinced me. What would be the harm in testifying to just a sample of the positive surges coming forth from the people of God in that land, if described prudently and without risk to their ongoing safety and success. Joy in an atmosphere of sorrow, persecution, and human despair. Is this not the paradoxical formula for some of the greatest moments in the Church’s history? And this without in any way minimizing the ongoing nationwide violation of basic human and religious rights by a totalitarian government that would not, or could not, admit that each human person in its country possesses an inherent, God-given dignity which transcends politics and national boundaries, including its unborn persons and its female persons. What the government could not see is that China should exist for the good of the person. The person does not exist for the good of China.

I would like to introduce you to two living witnesses to the joy of the Church in China, which thrives amid great sufferings. These two joyful faces are from opposite ends of the ecclesiastical spectrum, but each in his own way manifests through heroic virtue the Face of Jesus and his Body as it is exists in China. Theirs is a Church developing, growing, and, paradoxically, “smiling” as it “makes up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of his Body, which is the Church” (Col. 1:24).

[Parts 2 and 3 of this article will appear Monday and Tuesday]

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Mark Miravalle is a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Author of more than a dozen books on Mariology, and editor of «Mariology: A Guide for Priests, Deacons, Seminarians, and Consecrated Persons,» he wrote «The Seven Sorrows of China» in 2007. He is married and has eight children.

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