This article and those that follow are intended to present a very particular reality, which plays a determining role in the lives of Catholics in China, either by conscripting them under the banner of the Chinese Communist Party or by casting them back into the catacombs. The article has been published on the website of the Foreign Missions of Paris. This presentation will allow the uninformed reader to understand what are the stakes of the agreement between China and the Vatican, which should be renewed in October.
40 years ago, the Chinese capital saw the birth of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, an organization with which any believer outside the Chinese borders is very unfamiliar, if not totally foreign. Those who live within these borders, on the other hand, are forced to continuously rely on this association in their daily lives.
The 241 delegates summoned to Beijing for the assembly that would found the Patriotic Association discussed the proposals which, apparently, came from the group “promoting” this idea. It seemed absolutely necessary, and henceforth inevitable, to create a new body capable of carrying out, within the Church, a task the need for which had never been felt before.
The ecclesial institution has always had to maintain relations with the civil authorities and has always found within it the people who are in charge of these relations. It therefore never seemed necessary to create an ad hoc body to maintain contacts with the civil authorities and deal with questions relating to this level, nor to invest it with effective ecclesial authority.
On the other hand, the insistence placed on the creation of this “liaison body” between the Church and the State has caused great perplexity among many Catholics who… questioned its objectives. The language, unfamiliar and even less adapted, to express realities… dangerously close to the central points of the faith, posed a problem.
The closure of almost all the churches in the country “due to the agrarian reform,” and never reopened thereafter, did not facilitate the climate of dialogue and raised quite legitimate suspicions. The disappearance, in recent years, of many bishops, priests, men and women religious, lay people, of whom nothing should have been known, was also worrying.
The very idea of the “Association” was an old story that had dragged on for seven years. Nobody spoke about it openly, but each of the participants was convinced that in the end, to allow its creation, the new regime had resorted to very expeditious methods of persuasion.
These methods included the assassination of a large number of priests and lay people considered “reactionary” or “counter-revolutionary,” the disappearance in prisons of many people, terror for those who saw the possibility of their own destiny taking shape. Despite this, many wanted to defend what looked like the last shred of freedom in the Church.
This defense had only a symbolic value. The founding of the Association, at first, then the ordination of bishops without an apostolic mandate became a fact of life.
After obtaining its creation as a privileged instrument of control, the Association moved, with the rest of the country, towards the dark years of the Cultural Revolution, which the Party itself would define as the “great national catastrophe.” At the end of the 1970s, the Association revived, increasingly presenting itself as the effective “patron” of the Catholic Church in China.
His presence caused a conflict in the organization of the Church, because the majority of Catholics did not accept and still do not accept to espouse the faith and religious practice imbued with an ideology and a bureaucracy which proclaimed and still proclaims the will to eradicate all religion from the fabric of national life.
In fact, Beijing makes no secret of “allowing” a certain freedom in the religious domain only in order to accelerate the extinction of religion itself.
It should also be added that, in many cases, members of the Association have been able and still know how to intelligently play a double game, without touching the integrity of the faith. However, it is important to highlight the institutional and constitutive perfidy that the Patriotic Association carries within it, from its foundation to the present day.
Why recall such long ago events?
The answer is already contained in the question: in order not to forget and in order to understand. In order not to forget the enormous suffering imposed on men and women because of their faith, the terrible humiliations to which so many people submitted and attacks their dignity. An immense evil for which the regime has not yet apologized.
Finally, to understand the story in which many of our brothers and sisters in faith found themselves implicated, immersed as they were in a very particular Church reality.