The evangelization of China hinges on fidelity to the Church and the Pope, says the 5th Commission for the Catholic Church in China hosted by the Vatican April 23-25.
“Obedience to Christ and to the Successor of Peter is the presupposition of every true renewal and this applies to every category within the People of God,” read the communique issued April 26.
Although “aware of the particular difficulties of the present situation,” the commission said, “evangelization cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline.”
China has an estimated eight to twelve million Catholics, with about half of those people worshiping in government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Founded in 1957, it does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.
Today’s communique paid particular tribute to the “bishops and priests who are detained or who are suffering unjust limitations on the performance of their mission.” Admiration was also expressed for the “strength of their faith and for their union with the Holy Father.”
Pope Benedict XVI himself set out his policy on China in 2007 in an open letter to Chinese Catholics. He criticized the limits placed by the Chinese government on the Church’s activities, including the right to appoint bishops.
The lifting of such restrictions, said today’s document, is crucial so that “the face of the Church may shine forth with clarity in the midst of the noble Chinese people.”
This clarity is “obfuscated,” however, by “those clerics who have illegitimately received episcopal ordination” and “by those illegitimate bishops who have carried out acts of jurisdiction or who have administered the sacraments.”
This week saw the episcopal ordination of Bishop Methodius Qu Ailin in the Chinese diocese of Hunan. The 51-year-old had the approval of both the Holy See and Chinese Government. In attendance, however, was at least one bishop ordained in recent years without Rome’s blessing.
“The behavior of these bishops” said the communique “in addition to aggravating their canonical status, has disturbed the faithful and often has violated the consciences of the priests and lay faithful who were involved.”
The communique concluded with a reminder that May 24 has been set aside as a Day of Prayer for the Church in China. The date marks the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians and will “provide a particularly auspicious opportunity for the entire Church to ask for energy and consolation, mercy and courage, for the Catholic community in China.”