On November 15-16, 2022, an online meeting was held between Church representatives from mainland China and their counterparts in Hong Kong. On the agenda the alignment of the clergy and Catholics of the former British territory in concession to the policy of sinicization of religion, which Beijing has made a priority.
The exchange was entitled “Second Mainland - Hong Kong Catholic Sinicized Theology Exchange.” It was the “second colloquium on the sinicization of theology between mainland China and Hong Kong,” in reference to a first meeting which was held on October 31, 2021, at the request of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
According to the report published by ChinaCatholic.cn - a religious information portal run by the Patriotic Church in Beijing - the participants “exchanged and discussed the significance of Bible translation and interpretation in relation to sinicization, based on Vatican II’s Dei Verbum.”
It should be noted that the Chinese Communists are relying on a Vatican II decree, supposedly taking stock of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, but which a minority of conservative Council Fathers – including Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – saw as a source of ambiguity. This is apparent from the document’s statement “the Church strives for the fullness of the truth,” which leaves the door open to an evolving tradition which would grow throughout the course of history.
In his opening speech, Bishop Joseph Shen Bin, president of China’s Catholic bishops’ conference and the CPCA’s vice-president, said 2022 had been a “very important year,” noting in particular the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) being “victoriously held” in Beijing last month. The high-level congress, held every five years, secured an unprecedented third term for Xi as general secretary of the CCP at the congress, President Xi Jinping “once again put forward the requirement of adhering to the direction of sinicization of religion in China and actively guiding religion to adapt to the socialist society.”
The prelate has even compared this policy to the work of inculturation of Catholicism in China carried out in previous centuries by many missionaries. “Our online exchange, guided by the spirit of the 20th Congress, will fully implement Xi Jinping’s thinking on socialism for a new era,” Bishop Shen concluded.
As far as Hong Kong is concerned, needless to say, the symposium had a chilling effect. The current bishop of Hong Kong, Msgr. Stephen Chow Sau-yan, tried to reassure his priests, downplaying the meeting as being oriented towards “an exchange of ideas on faith and culture,” ensuring that “no brainwashing was involved,” and that the clergy should retain their own independent thinking.
“But a Hong Kong priest told the Register on condition of anonymity that this emphasis by the Chinese authorities on cultural exchange is a strategy that the CCP frequently uses. ‘They would always start with something seemingly benign and harmless (like cultural exchange), but we all know that they have no intention for a real dialogue,’ he said. ‘Once they think the time is ripe, they will change strategy and begin to crack down on religions.’”
As far as Rome is concerned, the time still remains for dialogue, even if the evolution of the situation, carefully monitored by pontifical diplomacy, sometimes seems to be out of control: “With China, I opted for the method of dialogue,” declared the Sovereign Pontiff to the progressive America magazine on November 22.
The Pope also added the following: “It’s slow, there are failures, successes too, but I have no other means at my disposal.”