The harsh winter that the Catholics of China are going through rarely makes the news in the Vatican. Also, the colloquium organized by the Order of Trinitarians in Rome on April 25 and 26, 2022, with the approval and blessing of the Sovereign Pontiff, looks like a related event.
Because a specialist on the Chinese world and correspondent for Asia of the Spanish media ABC was officially invited to speak to describe the situation of Catholics in China with the perspective of a possible renewal of the Sino-Vatican agreement signed in October 2018 and due to expire in a few months.
Pablo Diez immediately dispelled any illusions held by his audience: “despite the economic and social openness of the last forty years in China, the State controls everything that could be of a nature to open a breach in the absolute power exercised by the Communist Party, especially religion, strong enough in their eyes to be able to mobilize the masses and overthrow governments,” he explains.
And he insists: “the key to understanding is found in the regime's propensity to control everything.”
In China, Catholics are subject to “subtle forms of religious persecution,” the speaker said. Thus, “when couples opt for a religious marriage, the ceremony is often scheduled very early in the morning, sometimes even before dawn”: and the authorities turn a blind eye, at the risk of discouraging more than one baptized person.
Not to mention the fear of the many security cameras that surround the churches: “In a church in Shanghai, I saw a dozen cameras pointing their lens at the door. The goal is not only to register those who dare to enter, but also to dissuade anyone who wants to do so,” says the ABC correspondent, for whom “China seems to have gone back several decades, using the pretext of putting in place a system to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Under these conditions, Pablo Diez does not hesitate to ask a question that is still difficult to hear in Rome: has the agreement between Beijing and the Holy See really contributed to improving the situation of China’s 29 million Christians?
To stick to the facts alone, the agreement – the details of which have not been disclosed to this day – essentially provides for the bishops to be appointed by the Vatican with the agreement of China government, in order to resolve the schism. : however, “out of more than thirty dioceses currently vacant in the country, only six seats have been filled, and religious persecution has not ceased,” notes the journalist.
The agreement also did not put an end to the policy of cutting down crosses: “in the spring of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, and when many sought spiritual comfort in the face of these uncertain times, more than five hundred crosses were removed in the eastern province of Anhui,” recalls Pablo Diez.
Ultimately, the rapprochement between Beijing and the Holy See is entering a decisive phase, because “the two parties will have to decide, before October 22, whether they should renew the agreement, which will indicate the state of their bilateral relations.”
And the speaker concludes by asking himself “to what extent can we trust a dictatorship, the most powerful in the world thanks to its economic dynamism, which commits so many abuses against the religious freedom of its citizens?”
Would the fact that a symposium sponsored by the Holy See voicing criticism of the 2018 agreement be a sign of an upcoming reassessment of relations between the Middle Kingdom and the micro-state, or of a negotiation at the highest level?
It is difficult to say, but whatever the case may be, it will take a very clever person to predict the future of the Sino-Vatican agreement: for if the ways of the Lord are impenetrable, those of the Son of Heaven – a title used in the past by the emperors of China – are not at all contradictory.