Today's Day of Prayer for China Marks 5th Anniversary

Cardinal Zen: Our Lady Needs to Obtain Miracles

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By Edward Pentin

ROME, MAY 24, 2012 ( «As the Holy Father told the faithful during a general audience recently, taking his example from the primitive Church, what we have to do in face of persecution is to pray so that we may have the courage to proclaim the truth with frankness,» said Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.

Speaking to ZENIT on today’s World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, marked on the feast of Our Lady Help of Christians, Cardinal Zen was recalling Pope Benedict’s words given at his general audience April 18, in which he referred to the Acts of the Apostles (3:1–4:31).

The Pope explained that that passage, in which Peter and John «lifted their voices together to God» after being arrested for proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection, revealed «an important basic attitude: when the first Christian community is confronted by dangers, difficulties and threats it does not attempt to work out how to react, find strategies, defend itself or what measures to adopt; rather, when it is put to the test, the community starts to pray and makes contact with God.»

«In the case of the Church in China,» Cardinal Zen said, «what we need most today is to be faithful to the true nature of the Church — one, Catholic, apostolic, founded on the rock of Peter — as the Holy Father clearly explained in his letter of 2007.»

All over the world and especially in China, Catholics today offered up prayers for the suffering Church in the country — a land where the faithful are forced to worship «underground» and where only the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association — the official state-run «church» that does not accept the authority of the Pope — is allowed for Catholics.

And although few media outlets have reported on it, the persecution continues. Just this week, news emerged that an underground diocesan administrator in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Father Joseph Gao Jiangping, had been tortured and held in solitary confinement in a bid to have him join the Patriotic Association.

According to a May 24 report in UCANews, Father Jiangping, who is in his 40s, had been confined in isolation since he was taken into custody Feb. 15. He is said to be in poor physical condition «because of torture and continuous interrogation.» He and other underground priests in the region remain in hiding and cannot carry out normal pastoral work because they have refused to support the Patriotic Association, the news agency reported. 

A veteran campaigner for religious freedom and human rights in the country, Lord Alton of Liverpool, noted that in view of such suffering, Pope Benedict’s decision in 2007 to have this annual World Day of Prayer for the Church in China has been «both prophetic and vital in the struggle» to bring religious freedom to the country. 

As the Holy Father said on Sunday, all Catholics must «grow in their love and concern» for the Church in China «so that religious freedom, and the human rights that come from it, can be fully realized,» the British peer told ZENIT. «China is a great country but as she grows economically she will need the values which Christians cherish. For the good of China’s wonderful people, the Catholic Church and the Chinese authorities must embrace one another and harness the energy of Catholics rather than persecuting them.»

Joseph Kung, founding president of the Cardinal Kung foundation, told ZENIT that the day of prayer is an opportunity for the universal Church to pray for «true freedom of religion, genuine human rights, and the ending of forced contraception and abortion rules in China.» He suggested it was also important for Catholics to pray for the opening of the beatification cause of his uncle, Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei, «together with other numerous martyrs under Communist rule in China.» 

«This will certainly be a very strong spiritual stimulus for the universal Church, especially for the Church in China,» Kung said. Cardinal Kung, a hero to Chinese Catholics for his unwavering faith in the face of Communist persecution, spent 30 years in Chinese prisons before being released in 1985.

Since Pope Benedict XVI instituted the World Day of Prayer in 2007 in his Letter to Chinese Catholics — a document aimed at encouraging the Chinese faithful and clarifying the Church’s position in its relations with China — little visible progress has been seen. The persecution of «underground» Catholics continues, bishops are sporadically ordained without the Pope’s permission, and Holy See-Beijing relations remain chilly at best. 

«Nothing has changed since 2007,» a Vatican official told ZENIT today, «but this is a process that could take 20 or 30 years.» 

For Cardinal Zen, what is important is that the underground Church «persevere in their uncompromised stand» and for the «official community» to turn away from compromise, or as the cardinal puts it: «the contradictions between being in communion with the Holy Father and supporting an independent church.» 

He means specifically new bishops appointed by the Holy See, yet who remain members of the Patriotic Association. Cardinal Zen believes that that situation remains unchanged since 2007 partly, he says, because the Vatican has given Chinese bishops conflicting messages, or appeared to encourage them to think that some degree of compromise with Beijing is possible.

The 80-year-old Salesian has long been a vocal critic of certain approaches by Vatican departments, often staffed as they are by officials who are not from China or who have not had direct, recent experience of the persecution and the suffering taking place there. So while he views the Pope and his letter as «a model of balance» between upholding the Church’s principles and offering necessary pastoral sensitivity to Catholics who have made mistakes and even to the Chinese government, he tends to view officials as repeating the «ostpolitik» mistakes of the past, when the Church tried to compromise in a bid to make peace with Communist Russia and Eastern Europe.   

In a recent interview with Eglises d’Asie, a French Web site, Cardinal Zen explained why that is so perilous. He said the persecution of Catholics is actually becoming «more real and concrete» and on this point the government is showing no improvement. «They are employing increasingly dangerous and skilled methods, because they no longer stop at just threatening people, instead they are now leading them into temptation,» he said. «They do not want to make martyrs, they want to encourage renegades. For the Church this is so much worse. They have the means to test people, good, weak or timid, and reduce them to obedience. Their tools are money, but also prestige, honor or positions in society.» 

Cardinal Zen said this was already being witnessed in 2007, which is one reason why the Holy Father established the Day of Prayer on May 24. The cardinal recalled that the Chinese government’s reaction to the letter was very negative. «Beijing did not want the Holy See to insinuate [the idea] that the Chinese Church is persecuted by civil authorities,» he said. «For example, after the publication of the papal letter, in Hong Kong we wanted to organize a pilgrimage to Shanghai. But the Chinese authorities did not authorize us to do so. Since then, throughout the month of May, all pilgrimages to Sheshan have been banned for groups that are not from Shanghai. This means that the government is very unhappy that people say that the Church is persecuted in China. «

Yet the cardinal sees the letter as something not only «totally new and unique» but also «a very eloquent sign» of how much Benedict XVI cares for the Church in China. «The Holy Father expresses concern about the Church in China, of which he is informed in great detail,» he said.

The outspoken cardinal told ZENIT he is not looking for reconciliation between Rome and the Patriotic Association. Instead, he said the reconciliation t
o hope and work for «is between the underground community and their brothers who are now still under the slavery of the Patriotic Association.» 

The cardinal added: «Humanly speaking, we see no intention of the government willing to recognize religious freedom. … But God, through Our Lady Help of Christians, can work miracles.»

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