China: Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun interprets Vatican diplomacy

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Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.

The news agency of the Foreign Missions in Paris, Eglises d’Asie (EDA), announced on December 8, 2015, that China is planning to hold a political summit on religion. Since the last Chinese Communist Party summit on religion in 2001, the number of Chinese practicing religion has skyrocketed. According to the official Chinese numbers, China has 100 million believers, of which 6 million are Catholic and 23 million are Protestant. Including churchgoers that are not registered with the authorities, an American study from the Pew Research Center gave the number of Protestants as 58 million and that of Catholics as 9 million in 2010, with an annual increase of approximately 10%.

Last March, the head of the ministry of religious affairs, Wang Zuo’an, explained that it was time to review the administrative regulations applying to religion, if possible in the course of 2015. From early 2015 on, Yu Zhengsheng, member of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party and successor to Xi Jinping as the head of the Communist Party of the city of Shangha, visited religious institutions of the five officially authorized religions (Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Protestantism and Catholicism) in Beijing, then in Baoding, in the province of Hebei, known for its strong Catholic presence. Lastly he participated in a meeting of the Commission for Religious Affairs of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the second house in the Chinese Parliament. In a declaration made in the previous month of May, President Xi Jinping insisted on what he called “sinoization” of religion in China. The concept of “sinoization” of religions requires the autonomy of religions relative to all foreign authority, and the adaptation of all these to the “socialist” values of the regime. In recent months, working meetings have been held in almost all the provinces of the country on the theme Sinoization of religions and Christianity. In the provinces of Guizhou and Shandong, the
“official” Catholic leaders were obliged to participate in early November, shortly after a Vatican delegation visited Beijing from October 11 to 16, 2015.

On January 11, 2016, EDA published a letter from the blog of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, aged 84, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, dated December 31, 2015. Cardinal Zen recounts the events of the past year without diplomatic doublespeak: “Over a thousand crosses have been taken down from churches (and in some cases the churches were demolished as well.) After so much time, we can no longer cherish the illusion that this campaign against the cross is only an excess of zeal on the part of some local authority. Several seminaries are no longer open. The students of the National Seminary of Beijing were forced to sign a declaration of fidelity to the independent Catholic church, also promising to concelebrate the Mass with illegitimate bishops (or they would not obtain their diploma at the end of their studies). The government is building, little by little, a Church that is now objectively separate from the Universal Catholic Church. With attractive promises or with threats, it incites the members of the clergy to carry out acts in opposition to the doctrine and the discipline of the Church, against their conscience and their dignity.”

On October 28th, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, confirmed to the press that a Vatican delegation, including six persons from the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, had visited Beijing from October 11th to 16th, 2015, in order to negotiate with the Chinese government. “It was Fr. Jeroom Heyndrickx who passed on the news in detail. He stated,” writes Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, “’Certain sensitive issues were not dealt with, such as the situation of the bishop of Baoding, Bishop Su Zhemin, still incarcerated, or that of Bishop Ma Daquin, bishop of Shanghai, under house arrest for over three years.’ (Should these problems not have been resolved before beginning any other negotiation? In absence of such a resolution, it can certainly not be affirmed that Beijing has shown proof of goodwill.) ‘Both parties were focused on the problem of the nomination of bishops.’ (Using what model? That of Anyang, where this process includes “democratic election,” the reading of the “decree of nomination from the so-called Chinese Bishops’ Conference,” and the unclear canonical status of a co-consecrating bishop?) ‘After this meeting, the delegation visited the bishop of Beijing, Bishop Li Shan, and the National Seminary where they met Bishop Ma Yinglin.’ (Fr. Heyndrickx claims that these are signs of goodwill from Beijing; I think on the contrary the visits were acts of homage imposed by Beijing.)”

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun concludes by imparting all the concern he feels at the diplomatic relations of the Secretariat of State with Beijing: “Our clandestine communities are nonexistent in the eyes of the government. But the Vatican itself does not take them into account in negotiations. Is this to grant a request from the Chinese Party? To save the situation, these brothers and sisters are to be abandoned? But they are the healthy members of the Church!” The cardinal recalls that “in early September, some of the faithful from Shanghai who had spent a long time in prison went on a pilgrimage to Rome, accompanied by their relatives, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Persecution, September 8, 1955. They were told, ‘Don’t draw too much attention to yourselves, the past is past, we must look to the future!” And he adds, “What concerns me is the sight of our illustrious Secretary of State still intoxicated by the miracle of Ostpolitik. Last year, in a eulogy of Cardinal Casaroli, he acclaimed the fact that his predecessor had succeeded in guaranteeing the existence of the Catholic hierarchy in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. He stated, ‘When choosing candidates for the episcopate, let us choose pastors, not persons who will systematically oppose the regime, who act like gladiators, who love to make a splash on the political stage.’ I wonder, who did Cardinal Parolin have in mind when he made this description? I fear he was thinking of Cardinal Wyszynski, Cardinal Mindszenty and Cardinal Beran. But these were the heroes who defended the faith of their people with courage! (…) When the Holy Innocents were killed, the angel told Joseph to take Mary and their Son to safety. Today, on the contrary, our diplomats would probably advise Joseph to go and dialogue with Herod!”

(Sources: – EDA – DICI no. 328, 15/01/16)

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