These articles are intended to present a very particular reality, which plays a determining role in the life of the Catholics in China, either by conscripting them under the banner of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 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 for the second time in October.
40 years after the founding of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, it is possible to decipher the purpose and the objectives that the leaders of the CCP had set themselves and that they hoped to achieve through its creation.
Immediate Preparation: A.D. 1956
From January to July 1956, all the local and provincial offices of Religious Affairs and all the main officials of the patriotic associations worked feverishly to prepare the convening in Beijing of a “Preliminary Meeting of a Preparatory Committee of the National Patriotic Association.”
One of their main tasks was to “invite” the Chinese bishops and diocesan administrators to join in this first preparatory meeting. The term “invitation” in this case is a notorious understatement. It refers in fact to the use of any means of pressure possible to extort the “voluntary and free” adhesion of the highest ecclesiastical authorities.
Information from the time, and especially testimonies collected over the past ten years, explain the methods used to convince. “A group of patriotic Catholics organized a series of meetings against the bishop to coerce him into adhering to the religious policy of the government. The accusations contained the usual counter-revolutionary terminologies – a spy in the pay of the imperialists, saboteur, etc.…”
Following this preparatory work, 4 bishops, 11 vicars general or diocesan administrators and 10 lay people met in Beijing from July 19 to 25, 1956 to become the official promoters of the National Patriotic Association of Catholics in China.
A total of 36 Catholic personalities from 23 different dioceses, out of the 139 ecclesiastical circumscriptions in the country, according to the 1949 directory of the Catholic Missions of China. Fr. Zhang Shilang, Vicar General of Shanghai, could not go to Beijing, for health reasons, but his name was added to the list anyway, bringing the number of “promoters” to 37.
I report below the texts of the time which relate the course of events and their meaning.
The preliminary meeting of the Preparatory Committee – July 19, 1956
“The preliminary meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics was successfully completed in Beijing,” writes a correspondent from China.
“The preliminary meeting of the Preparatory Committee of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics was announced by nine personalities, clergy and lay people, who had participated in the second plenary session of the second national committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The meeting took place in Beijing from July 19 to 25, 1956 and ended successfully.”
“Among the participants were Msgr. Wang Wencheng, Bishop of Nanchong (Sichuan), Msgr. Zhao Zhensheng, Bishop of Xianxian (Hebei), Msgr. Yi Huanhua, Bishop of Xiangfan (Hubei) and Msgr. Li Boyu, Bishop of Zhouzhi (Shaanxi). Also present were priests Li Weiguang, Apostolic Administrator of Nanjing (Jiangsu), Dong Wenlong, Vicar General of Jinan (Shandong), Li Chunwu, Vicar General of Beijing, Li Debei, of Tianjin, and the layman Yang Shida, of Shanghai. In all 36 people.”
“On July 19, 1956, after the adoption of the agenda and the presidency committee, Bishop Wang Wencheng gave the opening speech. At the invitation of the president, the director of the State Council Religious Affairs Office, He Chengxiang, participated in the work and presented the government's religious policy by commenting on current events.”
“In particular, He Chengxiang dwelt on the presentation of the successes achieved in the socialist construction of the country, the government policy regarding the protection of the freedom of religious faith and the significance of the Catholic patriotic and anti-imperialist movement.”
“In the group discussions and during the plenary sessions, Catholic clerics and lay people spoke with enthusiasm and unanimously recognized that to better implement the work of ‘love of country and religion’ it was absolutely necessary to found a patriotic organization at the national level.”
“They added that it was an opportune time to found such an organization. All expressed their firm confidence in effectively mobilizing the forces of clergy and lay Catholics in order to lead the Catholic Church well.”