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The Present Catholic Church in China and the Communion in the Eucharist




Fr. John Freeman Jr.


In recent years, as the world is focusing on the rapid development of China, the Universal Church is also paying close attention to one part of Her body—the Catholic Church in China (CCC). On the one hand, the CCC impresses people as full of conflicts of complicated nature with a very fragile and sensitive Church-State relationship. For instance, from time to time, some negative news reports on the CCC (illicit consecration, house arresting clergy etc.) come out and shock the international society; at the same time, the conflicts within the CCC herself also makes the Universal Church confused. This kind of news reports and conflicts damages not only the image of China on the international stage but also that of the CCC. On the other hand, the CCC also leaves people an impression of vitality and hope. For example, each year, tens and thousands of people everywhere in China pack into the churches for Christmas celebrations, and the Easter is the time for great harvest of evangelization. There are always many catechumens baptized every year. Obviously, the Holy Spirit has been working and present in China.

In reality, since Jesus called and formed the first group of disciples through the early Church era, all the way down to the medieval time and modern society, the Christian communities throughout the ages have been experiencing various trials, conflicts from both within and outside of the Church herself, same as the CCC at the present time. The subtle Sino-Vatican relationship and its related issues (i.e., the appointment of Bishops, internal division, the Patriotic Association, democratic rule of the Church, etc) have always been affecting the Church in China. Only when the Sino-Vatican relationship comes out of this historical deadlock and reach the normalization of diplomatic relations, can the external environment for unity and communion become possible. From her inside, just like the early Church communities, the Chinese Catholic clergy and faithful must follow the teachings of Christ in healing the division within the Church, devoting to the mission of the local Churches (the proclamation and witness of the gospel, communion and reconciliation). Only when both the external and internal conditions are ready, can unity and communion be possible. Therefore, what the CCC needs the most is the reconciliation within Christ, communion in the Eucharist, unity and solidarity with the Universal Church through the successor of St. Peter.

This article, therefore, is aiming at discussing the unity and communion in the Eucharist in light of the difficulties, as well as the external and internal elements affecting this goal. The CCC has more than one hundred dioceses. The situation in different areas varies from place to place due to personnel, regional, and specific matters. As a result, this article doesn’t intend to target any particular person, community and diocese; rather, it’s meant to do some analysis and discussion with regard to some common phenomena and outstanding people and events in both Communities.

  • The division within the CCC and the obstacles on the way to unity and communion

One of the distinguished characters of the Catholic Church is communion and unity. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, “Communion and unity are the basic elements of the Catholic Church.” [1] On both the horizontal and vertical levels, communion reinforces the relationships between the divine and human and between humans as well. There cannot be separation between the unity and communion of the Church. This is reflected in the areas of doctrines, sacraments, and hierarchy. On the level of the Universal Church, since the Ecumenism movement in 1867, the communion in the Eucharist has been the core of Church’s unity.

Usually, the problems with regard to the communion in the Eucharist are not derived from the doctrines; rather, they are related to pastoral and disciplinary aspects. [2] Pope Benedict XVI had already pointed out when he was still in charge of the Sacred Congregation of the Doctrines: “Unity, or communion, between the particular Churches in the universal Church, is rooted not only in the same faith and in the common Baptism, but above all in the Eucharist and in the Episcopate.” [3] The issues surrounding the unity and communion of the CCC are also reflected in the Eucharistic celebrations and the Bishops’ offices, and in pastoral and disciplinary matters as well.

For this reason, the late Pope John Paul II thus emphasized: “The thirst for unity turns our eyes to the Eucharistic sacrament. That is the highest sacrament of unity for God’s people, and is also the most perfect expression and most unsurpassable wellspring. . . . In celebrating the Eucharist, the Church asks God the Merciful Father to make Her children full of God’s Holy Spirit, and be united in Christ as one heart and one body.” [4] Pope Benedict XVI called the Holy Eucharist blessed by Bishops and priests as “the chain for sacramental communion,” [5] and also emphasized: “The faith of the Church is mainly the faith of the Holy Eucharist,” and “the sacrament of Eucharist is the center of Church lives.” [6]

From the beginning till now, China has had only one Catholic Church, believing the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Her faith is not different from that of the Universal Church. However, we have to admit that, up to now, there has been two Catholic Church Communities, namely the Open and Underground Communities.[7]

The division within the CCC has a lot to do with those who, in the past, had openly denounced the Holy Father and then opted for self-selection and self-consecration of Bishops. At the same time, some ordained pastors, though had got married, still carried out sacramental ministries, and some laity, who had joined the Patriotic Association, tried to control the clergy, are to be blamed as well. In order to avoid scandals, some Catholic clergy and faithful chose not to go to their churches, not to concelebrate with them and not to receive the communion from them, avoiding any kind of sacramental communion with them. Meantime, faced with emergency situation, based on the “special privileges,” [8] the latter, “not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration.” [9] When both sides went ahead to consecrate bishops without the prior approval from the Holy See, two Church Communities and two groups thus came into being. Being afraid of committing sin, going to hell, and losing the souls, any kind of sacramental communion was brought to an end. [10] In some Dioceses, the clergy and faithful from these two groups were at the point of daggers drawn and hostile to each other. When the conflicts became heated up, some major seminaries were named as “the nest of the devil.” Many Dioceses, parishes and communities were torn apart mercilessly by the internal conflicts.

Although the German-born scholarly Pope has emphasized that “[t]he clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church’s life,” [11] before the normalization of the Sino-Vatican relationship, when there are still many difficulties for the Universal Church and the CCC to realize full communion, especially in the midst of the political situation with Chinese characteristics, the co-existence of Open and Underground Church Communities in China can actually be an asset for the development of the CCC. These two can play different roles (i.e., critical prophetic role and servant role), so as to gain more rights and obtain more space for the development of the Church. At the same time, they can mutually supervise and encourage each other for a more balanced development. At least, one side can remind another not to go too far and say things excessively, and not to do things with either extreme. Of course, when the two sides have too much misunderstanding and too much hurts and lead into uncontrollable situations and eventually affect social stability and damage the images of both the country and the Church, not only do the Vatican, the Chinese Government, and the CCC, but the two Church Communities also, ought to do some soul-searching, so as to take responsibilities and change the tide. Facing the increasing conflicts between these two Communities, the Indian-born President of the Sacred Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples had to speak out openly: “There is no division of open and underground in Heaven, for we are all God’s sons and daughters. The Holy Father desires very much to see the unity in this life.”[12]

With the improvement of the Sino-Vatican relationship, especially with the tireless invitation and appeals for reconciliation from the previous and current Popes, the hostile atmosphere between the Open and Underground Communities has reduced to a great extent. The old battle-like situation is reduced to a greater extent and mutually attacking remarks are much less. Some Dioceses have started dialogue and cooperation and some parishes are now the experimental sites for reconciliation with con-celebrations happening around the same altar, or separate Eucharistic celebrations taking place in the same church. The hope for communion in the Eucharist is near. Nevertheless, the general line between the two camps in many Dioceses has not changed substantially as both sides are still oscillating, watching, pondering and waiting. Obviously, forgiveness and acceptance needs courage and healing and reconciliation also need time. Some Bishops who had been used to the days of black and white are now having mixed feelings: Facing various new challenges from the Church, society, politics, economy and personnel, they hope for the improvement of the situation on the one hand, but don’t want to see the situation changed right away on the other hand. At this point, the Vatican and the Chinese Government haven’t reached any final agreement on some key issues of conflicts (the appointment of Bishops, the Patriotic Association, the democratic rule of the Church), and the result of negotiations has not been brought about; therefore, everybody from both Communities is very cautious with regard to the present responses, choices and decisions when it comes to the matters related to the direction of future development of the CCC. The normalization of the Sino-Vatican relationship is crucial for the stability, unity and communion of the CCC. [13]

Though there are no discrepancies with regard to faith between the CCC and the Universal Church, nor is there any novelty in the area of Sacraments, the problems and disagreements on the levels of the Church disciplines and pastoral activities have indeed hurt the feelings of the Chinese Catholic Bishops, clergy and faithful and engendered difficulties for the communion in the Eucharist. In actuality, the communion in the Eucharist serves not only as a measure for the communion among the local Churches in special situation and also between the Universal and local Churches, it is also an effective path for the attainment of reconciliation and healing process. Without the reconciliation and communion in the Eucharist of Christ, there will be no real unity within the CCC.

  • To look at the unity and communion of the Catholic Church in China from its outside: The Sino-Vatican relationship and others

In 1949, the People’s Republic of China was established while the Republic of China (the Nationalist Government) withdrew from the political stage of Mainland China. In that year, the rest of the embassies also left China, except the former atheistic Soviet Union and the Vatican, who had hoped to set up new diplomatic relationship with the New China. However, the Sino-Vatican relationship died prematurely. In the midst of vigorous nation-wide Anti-Imperialist and Patriotic movements then, the Protestant Church in China went ahead to declare the “Three-self Movement,” namely, Self-Propagation, Self-Government, and Self-Support. This declaration laid a theoretical foundation for the principle of “running the Church independently and self-appointment of Bishops” for the CCC. In order to get rid of the imperialistic influence and to break away from the Vatican’s control of the CCC, in 1951, China first expelled the Papal Nuntio to China, Archbishop Antonio Riberi, then the rest of the foreign missionaries. In 1957, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) was established, and the following year, the first group of self-selected and self-consecrated Bishops, namely Dong Guangqing (1917-2007) of Hankou and Yuan Wenhua(1905-1973)of Wuchang got ordained. Up to now, the Sino-Vatican relationship worsened. Influenced by the extremely leftist ideology, the leftist words and actions of the Patriotic Association and the self-consecration of Bishops became the ignition fuse of the Church and State conflicts, and created huge division within the Church and created main reason for the separation of two Communities. With the start of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the entire nation got into chaos while the Church activities stopped; this division, therefore, was temporarily sealed up. Nevertheless, it has already created the distant and external reasons for the difficulties of obtaining communion with the Universal Church and healing divisions within the CCC in the long run.

Since 1979 when China started its open-door policy, the Church has been on the way to recovery. The Government Agencies concerned restarted the self-selection and self-consecration activities and some Bishops got ordained through this channel. The conflicts within the Church broke out as a result. The clergy who couldn’t accept self-selection and self-consecration gradually drew a clear line with the Patriotic Association and those affiliated with it. In 1988, the late Bishop Fan Xueyan of the Underground Community in Baoding Diocese made his “Thirteen Points” known in the form of Q and A with regard to the issues of the Patriotic Association, Self-selection and Self-consecration, Sacraments. It can be considered as the watershed for the division of the Open and Underground Communities. [14]

When it entered into the 1990s, with more dialogue and contacts happening between the Vatican and China (1996-1999), both sides were planning on establishing the diplomatic relationship. Unfortunately, due to the lack of confidence on the part of China with too much worry over the loss of the Church’s leadership into the hands of those uncooperative with the Government, it ended up with the Government agencies reinforcing the Patriotic Associations on provincial, city, and county levels. At the same time, the notion of “democratic rule of the Church” was also brought up (2003) and the self-selection and self-consecration of Bishops sped up, with an intention to select and consecrate a Bishop politically reliable for each Diocese prior to the establishment of diplomatic relationship. Among the several incidents, the January-sixth consecration in Beijing in 2000 and the three consecrations in 2006 (Kunming, Hefei, and Xuzhou) were the most damaging and most publicized.

Obviously, to reinforce the Patriotic Association is meant to resist the Church hierarchy, [15] to practice the democratic rule of the Church is to reduce the rights of the clergy, while self-selection and self-consecration is to challenge the traditional theocracy of the Catholic Church. From of old, the power of the Emperors in China has always been over that of religions and the latter has always been under that control of the former. Throughout the historical experiences of Church-State coalescence and separation, the Catholic Church has always been obtaining unity through the communion with the Roman Pontiff, and thus has been reflecting her universal oneness. Because of this, when the Chinese political heritage encounters the universal Catholic tradition in communion with the Pope, the conflicts are bound to happen due to the incompatible and irreconcilable characteristics of these two strong and influential cultures. This kind of Church-State conflict is the immediate external reason for the difficulties of obtaining communion with the Universal Church and healing divisions within the Church in China.

In reality, the faith and structural system of the Universal Church has already made it impossible for the Local Churches to be cut off from the Pope and from the Universal Church by any external forces; otherwise, the special character and meaning of the Universal Church’s existence will be lost. No matter whether one had been following the principle of running Church independently or that of self-selecting and self-consecrating Bishops, since 1958, from the first self-selected and self-consecrated Bishop to almost every Bishop in the CCC at the present time, all of them had asked for the Holy Father’s approval, forgiveness and acceptance, either openly or secretly. As a matter of fact, the Government officials all understand that self-selection and self-consecration of Bishops seriously violates the faith tradition and Cannon Law of the Catholic Church.[16] What’s more, no matter how much pressure the outside forces exert, it’s simply very hard to change people’s heart and their faith tradition from within. Therefore, from the perspective of the end result, self-selection and self-consecration ends up as a nominal “self.” This result is just like a phenomenon in China now: Although the Capitalist private ownership has replaced the Socialist collective system long ago, and the Capitalist economy has replaced the Socialist one, a well-versed phrase is still being used to describe “the special” situation: “China at the present time is still in its initial stage of Socialism.” With this factor in mind, when the Pope has to openly appoint the Bishops in the future, some special characteristics of China need to be reflected. For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI has said frankly that he wishes to reach agreement with the State through dialogue and consultation.[17]

With the support of the Government, the CCPA has always been acting as the mouthpiece for the CCC. Although the Government has always been returning the Church properties through the Patriotic Association and has been allowing the opening of seminaries and other Church ministries in its name, provided that the situation varies from region to region, its general reputation is far from commendable. Especially the Patriotic Association’s words and actions against the faith and Church’s doctrines, and some of its members’ craving for power, money and political prestige, have painted it image very negatively among the local Churches and in the mind of ordinary clergy and faithful. Since the CCPA was established with the governmental support as a “social entity” with strong political flavor, not as a Church organization in the traditional sense,[18] the Vatican and China can reach an agreement to abolish it, but to abolish a government established social entity touches the lofty stance of China, and is almost imaginably impossible. On the other hand, in light of the concrete situation of the country, the Chinese Government and the Vatican can reach an agreement to change its name and define its role, function and boundary. This requires both the Vatican and China to cooperate well in looking for a proper solution.

China has two national Bishops’ Conferences: The Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (open) was established in 1980 in Beijing while The Bishops’ Conference of the Mainland China (underground) was established in 1989 in Sanyuan of Shaanxi Province. Although the Holy See has never made any comments on the underground Bishops’ Conference, the reason for Pope’s refusal to acknowledge the open Bishops’ Conference is very clear: the underground Bishops are not included in while the illicit Bishops are its members. Thus its rule and regulations are against the contents of the Doctrines.[19] So long as the Sino-Vatican relationship has not reached normalization, the Bishops of these two Conferences cannot come together. As a result, these two simply cannot function normally both in and outside of China as those in other countries do, and they simply cannot reach unity.

For many years, Bishops from China have always been absent at both the Asian Bishops’ Conference and the World Synod of Bishops.[20] This absence indicates that there still are disagreements between China and the Vatican in terms of the Bishop candidates to attend the Synod. Actually, no matter what reason led to the absence of Bishops from China, it is a big loss for both the Chinese Government and the CCC. What China and CCC lost is not only the right of opinion on the level of the Universal Church and international society, but also the good opportunity to improve the image of China among the world-wide local Churches. What’s more, the great opportunity to present China, the religious policy of China and the Church of China to the international society is also lost.

After all, having gone throught the crisis of faith in the 1980’s, the present Chinese society is moving from the faith renewal stage into the new era of fast development of religion. The practice of “worshiping all kinds of gods” and “worshiping whomever effective” is widely seen among ordinary people. [21] Some sects with strong flavor of witchcraft and superstition are also growing rapidly toward an uncontrollable direction. The folk sacrificial worships are booming. The yearly Emperor Huang and Emperor Yan worship is gradually becoming a national worship. The Falungong movement, which had dared to lay siege to Zhongnanhai, the nerve center of China, was only started in 1992 but banned by the Government as an evil cult in 1999. During that short period, so many Communist and Government officials and social celebrities followed Li Hongzhi and supported Fa Lungong. Given these aforesaid reasons, there is no doubt that China indeed has religious freedom according to the Chinese Constitution, but to wonder why there are so many problems of religious conflicts, why religious activities are often restricted with the policy of religious freedom,, and further more whether China is treating five major religious communities (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslin, Catholic and Protestant) and the folk beliefs equally and fairly are still necessary, and with good reasons at least (or at least not groundless).

China’s support for the World Buddhist Forum and the restriction on the pilgrimage to Sheshan Maria Shrine in 2008 became the obvious contrast. The cost for the main Buddhist Palace and others amounted to 1.8 billion RMB. More than 1700 Buddhist monks and scholars, as well as those in the political circles, from about 50 countries and regions came to this Forum.[22]

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI decided for all the Catholic faithful around the world that May 24th is the “the day to pray for China.” The pilgrimage activities of Sheshan Maria Month (May), from then on, were thus restricted. The restriction for Sheshan pilgrimage activities firstly is not a question of whether or not the policy on religious freedom in China has changed; secondly, it’s not because of the security concern for the Olympic torch relay in Shanghai in May; thirdly, it’s not because the Chinese Government couldn’t control the situation and lacked confidence; fourthly, it’s not because of the fear for religious infiltration. In reality, it’s because the Chinese Government still has not built up enough confidence and trust for the Vatican. By restricting the pilgrimage activities, Beijing sent a signal to Rome and to the world: “This is China! Who is in Charge! Who is the decision maker? The rein of the Chinese Communist Party is able to control and manage the entire situation.” [23] What China wants now is face, self-confidence, dignity, respect and rights. The lack of confidence, trust and understanding for the Vatican on the part of China now is just like the lack of confidence, trust and understanding for China on the part of the Western world in the past. Therefore, it will still take some time for China and the Vatican to mutually understand, adapt and accept in the areas of culture, politics, history and religion. The mutual communications and consultation also needs to be improved and enhanced.

World history has proved that, with the Government support and favor, a religion would flourish for sure, but not necessarily in a healthy way. As China is now advocating for a harmonious society within herself and calling on other countries “to build a harmonious world,”[24] to utilize various religions’ positive role and to create a harmonious and well-balanced society that includes religion, is very important. Undoubtedly, in recent years, China has been paying greater attention and lending more support to the five patriotic religious communities (Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestant Church). Especially when it comes to training the next generation of clergy, settling and building the sites of religious activities and working spaces, the investment is rather considerable. What is ironic is: The support and trust that China now has for the native religions are much more than those for the foreign religions, but the specially appropriated funds to the government agencies on different levels for managing the foreign religions are much more than those for managing the native religions.

Both China and the Vatican have either renewed or established diplomatic relationships with most of the countries in the world, but the ice of Sino-Vatican relationship still remains intact. The Vatican has established friendly diplomatic relationship with many neighboring countries, including South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, India, Singapore, and has contributed very positively to the development of these countries. In reality, in today’s globalized world, if China wants to join the family of international society, the Pope and the CCC can be the best promoter and bridge between China and the West. Pope Benedict XVI’s public praying for China and for Beijing Olympic Games when the Olympic torch relay was being resisted and desecrated engendered long-lasting influence.[25] For a long time, China has been constantly criticized and castigated by the international society for her human rights and religious issues. Once the Sino-Vatican relationship becomes normalized, the friendship between China and the Vatican will for sure dispel many misunderstandings and bias that the international society has for China over the religious issues. There will be much less verbal wars between China and the West over these issues as well. This helps not only to enhance the image of China on the international stage, but is also very conducive to the unity of the country, the settlement of Tibetan issues and the peace of the World.

Therefore, the normalization of the Sino-Vatican relationship is win-win situation for many, and is in accordance with the interests of both sides. It is also in line with the general trends. Once this normalization takes place, the external obstacles on the way to unity and communion for the CCC will for sure disappear.


 IIITo look at the unity and communion of the Catholic Church in China from its inside: conflicts and resistance to change

On the way to Jerusalem with his disciples, Jesus talked about his suffering, death and resurrection three times. The twelve apostles did not understand the things that would happen to their Master and the meaning of Jesus’ telling his suffering. On the contrary, they argued who was the greatest. This brings division among the apostles. The disappointing result is that for twice the apostles have conflicted with one another. The first conflict happens after Jesus speaks about his arrest, death and resurrection for the second time (Mk.9:31-32). The second conflict takes place after Jesus’ talking about his suffering for the third time (Mk 10:32-34).

Then they came to Capernaum. After Jesus was inside the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?”  But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. (Mk.9:33-34)


Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”  He said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?”  They said to him, “Permit one of us to sit at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.”  But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I experience?” They said to him, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I experience, but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give. It is for those for whom it has been prepared.”  Now when the other ten heard this, they became angry with James and John. (Mk.10:35-41)

After the first conflict, Jesus kindly persuades them. Shortly after, two of Jesus’ three beloved disciples, James and John, ask their Master about their place in his kingdom. The other beloved disciple of Jesus is Peter. Although the Gospel does not say that he joined the rest of the disciples, he did ask Jesus about the reward: “Look, we have left everything to follow you….” (Mk. 10:28) According to Mark, the request is put forward by two apostles themselves (Mk. 10:35).  However, Matthew writes that the request is brought forward by their mother (Mk. 20:20-21). No matter who requested, the improper behavior and the incorrect understanding of the Kingdom of God draw other disciples’ criticism. The Gospel uses the word “angry” to describe the dissatisfaction of other ten disciples.

The conflict that happened among Jesus’ disciples exists in the Chinese Catholics and clergy today. In this conflict, many have been hurt deeply. Within some Catholic families, conflicts arose between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, and between sisters-in-law as well, just because they belonged to two different communities. Some longtime friends and good neighbors became strangers and even enemies due to the same reason. Some Catholic villages that had enjoyed friendship and good relationship as everyone went to the same church and attended the same Eucharistic celebration are now tragically divided and became strangers as a result.

Although in the beginning the division within the Catholic Church in China originated from the interference of the political power, the nature of the conflict has changed substantially. At the present, the conflict has been shifted, willingly or unwillingly, from the union of the two Communities and obedience to the successor of St. Peter to the argumentation of the new and old Diocese and the conflicts among different factions, which seek their own advantage, inside of a particular Diocese. Some people and communities put their priority over power, honor, self-interest and personal fame of loyalty. These Catholics and clergy, like Jesus’ disciples, ignore the teaching of Jesus, namely, the heart of the Gospel— to share love, life and communion. They only consider for themselves: Do the Catholics belong to me? Do the priests belong to me? What power do the priests and Bishops have over their jurisdiction? With regard to the candidate of Bishop, they do not take what is the best for the Church as the top priority; rather, they only look at their own side for choice. Though it rarely happens, some of them form their own groups so that they can create things against other people and attack them. Even worse, they utilize the political, social and Church relationship to suppress others to the point of taking any means possible. The closer the normalization of China and Vatican relationship, the tenser this situation becomes. The two different Communities work harder than before to seek the advantage for their own Community or for themselves. Therefore, many have overly reacted and lost their right direction; as a result their Community involves constant confliction and cannot turn back. Furthermore, some parts are more severe than others. Obviously, the division and conflict, as well as self-interest inside of the Church are the internal reasons that block he union of the CCC.

One pious old underground bishop was taken to a hotel by the Government agency concerned. After having studied religious policy in isolation for some time, he was sent back. Some of his priests and laity started to disbelieve him and isolate him. They expressed their doubt: “The bishop was released, he must have surrendered! Otherwise, how could they let him out so easily?” The people, who have lived in a suppressed environment for a long time, like to view things from the negative side. It is not surprising that they see their bishop in such a way. Some bishops want to push for the union of the CCC according to the spirit of the letter from Pope Benedict XVI, but many are against them and they encountered a big resistance. As a result, this kind of doubt and unbelief against each other bring some dioceses further division. The Church in China is full of hurts all over her body. [26]

Some particular bishops express their obedience to the Holy Father publicly, but when the Church asks them to retire, they not only refuse, but also fight against the decision, and even create more problems for the Church. The spirit of refusing to retire among the old clergy is great, but should not for the sake of disrespecting the Church Law on retirement age and rejecting the Church decision for them to retire. All of these reasons have hampered the unity and development of the Diocese.

One priest, who had studied abroad for many years, returned home and found that his Diocese finally had some changes: For example, two or three parishes tried to unite together, the relationship between the conflicting Open and Underground Communities got better. People did not hate each other as in the past. However, the Diocese does not have substantial change in reconciliation of the two Communities and peace within each Community. As a result, the Diocese is still in chaos. In the newly united parishes, the priests from one Community must first sign his name before the Bishop of another to express their loyalty (obviously it must express repentance) before being received by the Bishop. Even in the united parishes, each priest celebrates mass separately, only a few con-celebrations or none. Over the past more than ten years’ time, the Chinese Catholics have been mainly concerned about who is right and who is wrong, who is licit and who is illicit. They do not think what is the best for the Diocese, naturally they do not focus their energy on spreading the Gospel and on educating themselves either. Both the open Bishop and underground Bishop in the Diocese want to do better, but they do not have sufficient energy. Moreover, they do not have the intention to sit down together to unite the two Communities and even worse they do not have a clear vision to develop the Diocese, let alone the long-term plans.

Since Pope Benedict XVI issued the pastoral letter to the CCC in 2007, it has become, with a great influence on the believers, a guide for the Church, and some progress has been made on the way to reconciliation, fellowship and unity. Improvement in the relationship between China and the Vatican is encouraging on the one hand, but on the other hand, it is a formidable challenge for the believers (both leaders and laity) who have been hurt deeply and yet not been healed. These are the questions they have in mind: Is there any practical meaning and value for unification? After so many years of insisting on one’s principle, emotionally, it is hard to accept the people who belong to the other Community, and theoretically difficult to explain to their own people why to do so. These difficulties have made the leaders of some Dioceses want to keep the things as they are, and safely guard their good reputations, without thinking of change or making any progress. In addition, escape is considered by many as the best way when facing the seemingly unbearable responsibility and complex circumstances. They would rather shift the attention of their own and others to the external factors and pressure. They are reluctant to change, dare not face the reality and overcome the difficulties. What makes the things worse is that some Bishop do not have enough education at all, with very limited theological knowledge and incapable of management. All of these have made nearly impossible the unification and progress of the local Churches.

An aged Bishop who had been through the vicissitudes of life once spoke out of the worries and difficulties that he was facing, “I am so old that God may call me back to him any time. How can you expect me to change? It is better not to change at all. Before the relation between China and the Vatican becomes certain, it is rather safe to keep the things as they are, and it is safe for all of us. I have been following my principle for so long, if a compromise and some changes are made now, how could the people who have been following me stand up with straight back in front of others? Any instance of being inadvertent can cause damage to the relationship between the two sides and many may complain and some may even say that I have become a betrayer. The good reputation which I have acquired through the hard way will be destroyed entirely. It is better to do nothing and we would rather wait until the appropriate time comes. “Wait and see” is the mainstream of attitude of the CCC. This attitude exists not among the old-generation of Bishops and clergy only, but widely does so among the younger ones.

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter–in- law against mother-in-law.”(Luke 12:49-53)

In this paragraph there are words like “fire”, “baptism”, “peace” and “division”. Jesus uses the word “fire”, hoping the apostles will be kindled; “wish”, hoping them to take actions and complete their mission. Biblical scholars think that we are to understand the meaning of the sentence “I have a baptism with which to be baptized” in the light of “the baptism” and “cup” spoken by Jesus in his reply to James and John (Mark 10:38). Here “the cup refers to Jesus’ suffering, and the baptism the death of the Lord.” [27] Thus Jesus challenges the apostles and leads them to turn again their eyes to his suffering, death and resurrection, and invite them to go with him into Jerusalem, and to go through a new baptism of suffering, death and resurrection. If the leaders and laity of the CCC want to make reconciliation and unification possible, they too have to endure the process full of suffering and challenge, and to accept Christ and the Holy Spirit as their guide and leader. The joy and peace of resurrection and new life comes only after they have conquered themselves.

At the same time, we may ask question why Jesus, the prince of peace, would bring division even to the society’s most basic units—families. The answer is that the division Jesus brings will make changes, and he seems to say: Do not think that I have come to bring an easy, comfortable and secure life to you. Instead, I will wake you up from your muddleheaded sleep, and I want you to adventure, to act and to change for the sake of the kingdom of God. [28] “Jesus has come to the world to establish the kingdom of God. He wants to make a change to the world full of evil. And this change cannot be made without difficulties.” [29] This mission will be possible only when everyone and every community are willing to change and make their contributions. The only way to the true peace is to take off the old self and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus Christ wants people to be kindled and take action, change themselves and turn to Him.

Since the internal dispute and the attitude of “not to change” are currently the main obstacles in the way to progress and unity for the CCC, if believers (both leaders and laity) want to remove the obstacles, they have to turn their eyes to Christ. In other words, they have to fix their eyes on Jesus. This Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem, was in the Upper Room, (is present in the form of bread and wine), sat at the dining table, nailed on the cross, came out of the tomb and rose again. The process of this Passover is especially long for the Church in China. From the three-hundred year long “Rites Controversial” following Matteo Ricci’s time till the recent half-century long Church-State conflict, the suffering that the Church in China has endured is too long to be easily understood. Every time when the conflict took place between the State and the Church, the Chinese Catholic clergy and faithful and those missionaries who remained bravely in mainland China suffered the most and gravely. For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI connects the suffering and persecution that the Church in China and in Asia are undergoing to the scene of “dismay” in the vision of John recorded in Revelation to help us understand better.

In fact “the subject of one of the most important visions of the Book of Revelation is [the] Lamb in the act of opening a scroll, previously closed with seven seals that no one had been able to break open. John is even shown in tears, for he finds no one worthy of opening the scroll or reading it (cf. Rev 5:4). History remains indecipherable, incomprehensible. No one can read it. Perhaps John’s weeping before the mystery of a history so obscure expresses the Asian Churches’ dismay at God’s silence in the face of the persecutions to which they were exposed at the time. It is a dismay that can clearly mirror our consternation in the face of the serious difficulties, misunderstandings and hostility that the Church also suffers today in various parts of the world. These are trials that the Church does not of course deserve, just as Jesus himself did not deserve his torture. However, they reveal both the wickedness of man, when he abandons himself to the promptings of evil, and also the superior ordering of events on God’s part.”[30]


In other words, though Jesus and the disciples should haven’t endured these sufferings, the Savior chose the way of salvation through suffering. Even though the beloved disciples of Jesus didn’t understand this completely on the way to Jerusalem, they were eventually not only strengthened by the risen Christ but also gave remarkable witnesses to Him. At the present, the clergy and faithful of the Church in China are still waiting for the Passover on the way to Jerusalem, at the side of the Cross and Jesus’ tomb. Through this Passover, the risen Lord will bring confidence and hope, healing and reconciliation, communion and unity, peace and joy to the Chinese clergy and faith as he did to the disciples in the past.

For the reason that the disciples had argued for the first time on the road to Jerusalem who was the greatest, when Jesus and the disciples arrived to Capernaum, he sat down, called the Twelve to him and calmly asked and taught them, saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35). When they again were hostile to each other because James and John asked Jesus for high place in his kingdom, he spoke to them to serve each other in a grave tone. (Mark 10:42-45)

In Jerusalem, his last hour has finally arrived. At the last supper, Jesus has to face not only Judas who would betray him but also all his other disciples who would abandon him, including his beloved disciple Peter (head of the apostles). That evening, when Jesus announced to the community of disciples the news that he would be betrayed, Mark described that “the disciples were distressed” (Mk 14:19), John recorded that Jesus at that moment was “troubled in spirit.” Jesus though grieving, sad and suffering, washed the feet of the twelve apostles, including those of Judas’ (Jn 13: 1-20). After that, he blessed the bread and wine and invited them to receive.

And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” (Mark 14:18)

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take; this my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it.  He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” (Mark 14:22-24)

When he instituted the Holy Eucharist, Jesus did not reject any of his unfaithful disciples. Therefore in the Last Supper room the climax of communion took place within the Eucharist for the Church on earth. Even though he knew that Judas would betray him, Jesus still loved and accepted him, washed his feet and sat at table with him. [31] Actually not only his disciples who betrayed and abandoned him sat at table with Jesus, there were also many of those rejected by society who often appeared at table with Jesus (e.g., tax collectors, sinners and those who are defiled). “The meal scenes usually include conversations about the reign of God and who can participate in it.” [32] Of course, this is Jesus’ unconditional love, service, sharing, forgiveness and acceptance, to the extent of giving his own body and blood to his disciples, achieving thus God-man integration, communion, and unity. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out during the Holy Thursday mass, “Breaking the bread is an act of communion, an act of uniting through sharing.”[33]

With Christ’s compassion, Pope Benedict XVI hasn’t given up on any Bishop in China. In his Letter, he showed full compassion and understanding for all the Bishops ordained either through normal channels or abnormal channels, including those ordained secretly and illicitly. For this reason, with the assistance of the Sacred Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples and of his assistants, Pope Benedict XVI accepted many self-selected and self-consecrated Bishops in 2008. At the same time, he also appealed to the Government to accept those Bishops ordained secretly and expressed his hope for those Bishops whose ordinations have not been accepted yet: “What great spiritual enrichment would ensue for the Church in China if, the necessary conditions having been established, these Pastors too were to enter into communion with the Successor of Peter and with the entire Catholic episcopate! Not only would their episcopal ministry be legitimized, there would also be an enrichment of their communion with the priests and the faithful.” [34]

In Christ and in the Holy Eucharist, the apostles finally emerged from disputes among themselves and the apostolic community filled with the risen Lord, achieved reconciliation and communion and, they were gradually renewed, changed and strengthened. So it is only in Christ and the Eucharist can conversion, change and breakthrough take place and real communion, reconciliation and unity be finally realized.

While praying in the garden and on the cross, Jesus already had forgiven his unfaithful disciples. (Lk 23:34)  As the High Priest, Jesus’ prayer for his disciples was sincere and touching. (John 17:11, 20-23)  The Prayer of Christ the High Priest can be considered as the prayer of communion. Jesus portrayed vividly the Father-son and Master-disciple relationship of communion and unity in the Father. Communion and unity can be realized in the love of the Father and of Christ.

Finally, the Chinese clergy and laity should turn from the empty tomb–confusion, disappointment and suffering–to the last words of the Risen Christ before his ascension: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”(Mk 16:15)  “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)

The risen Jesus once again strengthened the apostles, helping them to break the deadlock within the small circle of self and disputes and gave them the mission to proclaim and witness the good news. As a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the CCC, like the first apostolic community, should also receive this sacred mission from Jesus through the Pope, the successor of St. Peter, and must make known this same Jesus to the 1.3 billion countrymen and share the good news of his resurrection.



At the same time when we strive for reconciliation and communion in the Sacrament of Eucharist of Christ, every Christian is called to share the same good news and mission – Christ’s resurrection. Therefore, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. [35] These three goals are the invitation for both Communities in China, so that they can reconcile in the Eucharist of Christ, leading to final unification and communion. For this reason, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out the mission for the Catholic faithful in China:

My dear lay people, you are called, today too, to incarnate the Gospel in your lives and to bear witness to it by means of generous and effective service for the good of the people and for the development of the country: and you will accomplish this mission by living as honest citizens and by operating as active and responsible co-workers in spreading the word of God to those around you, in the country or in the city.[36]

At least before the unification, the two Communities can cooperate with each other in carrying out the non-controversial and non-conflicting but at the same urgently needed works. For example: to reinforce the evangelical activities, to practice charity, to strengthen the formation of male and female religious vocations and on-going education of priests. In preaching the good news, bearing witness to the gospel and imitating Christ, the two Communities will find the core value of the gospel and their vocations, and finally lead to the communion and unification in Christ and His communion.

Just like the disciples of Jesus in the old days, the Catholic clergy of various levels in China must constantly reflect on their vocations and realize the meaning of their vocations. They must wake up from their confusion, wonder, pain, and conflicts and let Christ strengthen them. When it comes to the faith principles and traditions, the words and acts must be clear and definitive, no room for compromise. At the same time, when it comes to other aspects, the responses must be flexible and appropriate. At this historical moment, “don’t be afraid!” the Bishops in China: “Bear the responsibilities that history has placed upon you! In this critical moment, your choice could revive the Church or it could let her languish for a long time.[37]

Although at the present the deadlock of the Sino-Vatican relationship has not had any major breakthrough, and the external conditions for communion and unity of the Catholic Church in China is not ready yet, every side and every Community must have the mentality and thinking of late Sino-Vatican relationship.

Pope Benedict XVI understands deeply the pain of the divided Church in China and foresees the difficulty in its reconciliation and communion. It will be a long road, reconciliation is not easy and will be under tension and various challenges. Therefore, he wrote to comfort the Catholic faithful in China as follows:

The history of the Church teaches us, then, that authentic communion is not expressed without arduous efforts at reconciliation. Indeed, the purification of memory, the pardoning of wrong-doers, the forgetting of injustices suffered and the loving restoration to serenity of troubled hearts, all to be accomplished in the name of Jesus crucified and risen, can require moving beyond personal positions or viewpoints, born of painful or difficult experiences. These are urgent steps that must be taken if the bonds of communion between the faithful and the Pastors of CCC are to grow and be made visible.

We all realize that this journey cannot be accomplished overnight, but be assured that the whole Church will raise up an insistent prayer for you to this end. [38]

To show the support of the Universal Church to the CCC, and the care and love of the successor of St. Peter, on May 27, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI invited the Catholics all over the world to pray for the church of China on May 24 of each year and appointed that day as “the Prayer Day for CCC.” Also, with heartfelt feelings, he composed the “Prayer to our Mother, the Lady of Sheshan.” Given these factors, the Universal Church and CCC have formed a more intimate and more visible relationship of communion.

The clergy and faithful in China must believe that the Holy Spirit has always been working. Once the Sino-Vatican relationship has become normalized, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the loving understanding, care and leadership of the Holy Father, as the Catholic Church in China strives to proclaim and witness the Good News to the 1.3 billion countrymen, the reconciliation, communion and unity in the Eucharist will become a reality eventually.

(By Jacob John Freeman who is a senior researcher on the Catholic Church in China, Translated by Haobo, June 06, 2009)

[1] “Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to the Catholic Bishops, priests, religious and laity in China.” (“Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China” hereafter) No. 8. May 27, 2007.

[2] Mark Fang Zhirong, S.J., “The Communion in the Eucharist.” Theological Dictionary, No. 583. (Shanghai: Shanghai Guangqi Press, 1999), P. 819.

[3] Joseph Card. Ratzinger, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion”, Rome, at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 28, 1992, No. 11.

[4] Pope John Paul II. “The Church living in the Eucharistic celebration.” (April 17th, 2003).

[5] Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 5.

[6] See Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation “The Sacrament of Charity” written by the after the eleventh Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October, 2005.

[7] Namely, the so-called “Underground and Open Church Communities,” or “Official and Unofficial Church Communities,” or “Patriotic and Loyal Church Communities.” The compassionate Pope Benedict XVI, who understands the Chinese Catholics, does not use any discriminated or belittled language to describe the CCC in his letter to China in 2007. For example, he did not use the term “patriotic Church” which is misused by some media. See “the Compendium of the Letter of the Holy Father Benedict XVI”.

[8] On June 27, 1978, the Sacred Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples granted these special privileges to The Chinese Catholic clergy and faithful. In May 1988, the Secretariat of the State and the Sacred Congregation of the Evangelization of Peoples jointly issued “Eight Directives” as guiding principles to the overseas Catholics visiting China. These “Directives” have binding force for the Catholic Church in China as well. Directive 5 requires them “avoid any kind of sacramental communion with the Bishops and clergy belonging to the Patriotic Association.”

[9] Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 8.

[10] See the “The 13 Points from Late Bishop Fan Xueyan of Baoding Diocese.” Jan. 3rd, 1988.

[11] Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 8.

[12] The homily of Cardinal Ivan Dias during the Eucharistic celebration for the “Day of Prayer for the Catholic Church in China” on May 24th, 2008.

[13] A Bishop says: “In the past, they (Government) wanted to become open, but I didn’t want. Now I want to become open, but they don’t want.”

[14] See the “The 13 Points from Late Bishop Fan Xueyan of Baoding Diocese.” Jan. 3rd, 1988.

[15] Some Dioceses in North China have been strongly against the Patriotic Association, but at the same time many clergy in most of the Dioceses in the South have been heading the Patriotic Association in their own areas. At the present, only the CCPA and the Patriotic Associations in the Provinces of Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Sichuan, Guangdong and Chongqing and Shenzhen Municipal Cities are still being headed by some lay people, the positions of Chairperson and Vice-Chairperson of the Patriotic Associations in other Provinces and Municipal Cities have gradually been taking over by some Bishops and priests. Because the Underground Communities have been strongly criticizing and opposing the Patriotic Association, the Government considers the joining of the Patriotic Association as one of the standards of converting the Underground Communities. Therefore, the establishment and joining of the Patriotic Association is one of the reasons for Church division in the past and one of the obstacles for reconciliation today.

[16] See Cannon Law, No. 1382. This blind and ignorant action hurts the feelings of Catholic clergy and faithful everywhere in the world.

[17] “The Holy See would desire to be completely free to appoint Bishops; therefore, considering the recent particular developments of the Church in China, I trust that an accord can be reached with the Government so as to resolve certain questions regarding the choice of candidates for the episcopate, the publication of the appointment of Bishops, and the recognition – concerning civil effects where necessary – of the new Bishops on the part of the civil authorities.” See Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 9.

[18]“…it is clear that the claim of some entities, desired by the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church, to place themselves above the Bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, does not correspond to Catholic doctrine…” See “Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China.” No. 7.

[19] See Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 8.

[20] In 1998, the Late Pope John Paul II invited Bishop of Duan Yinming and Coadjutor Bishop Xu Zhixuan of Wanzhou Diocese to attend the Asian Bishops’ Conference. In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI invited Bishops Jin Luxian of Shanghai, Li Du’an of Xian in Shaanxi, Wei Jingyi of Qiqiha’r of Heilongjiang (underground), Li Jingfeng of Fengxiang in Shaanxi (from underground to open)to attend the World Bishops’ Synod. The Bishops from China were not able to attend either one of them. In 2008, China and the Vatican once again negotiated for the 2008 World Bishops’ Synod, but no agreement reached. Once again, no Bishop from China attended as a result.

[21] Jiang Shoufeng. “A study on the mutual infiltration and influence of the Buddhist Culture and folk religions in China.” Buddhist Online, February 28, 2009.

[22] If it were not for the combined human and financial resources of Chinese Government, Buddhist organizations, private and corporate enterprises, and assistance and organization of those agencies concerned, how could such a big scaled international forum take place in China?

[23] Although the Government had “successfully” prevented people from the large-scaled pilgrimage trip to Sheshan on May 24th, 2008, by showing their mighty governing muscles, the awkward “empty mountain phenomenon” is not what they wanted to see either, for it damages their image of religious freedom policy. Therefore, on that very day, the Shanghai government hastily rented vehicles and organized many faithful within Shanghai City to Sheshan for pilgrimage. This controlling manner in handling religious affairs to the point of scrutinizing everything regardless of big and small matters, i.e., to freely cancel any religious activities according to the will of political leaders, shows that, under the pressure of “accountability system,” the governing party not only lacks trust for religions, but also lacks sense of security and confidence in its own governing ability from the psychological point of view.

[24] Based on his advocating for a harmonious society within China, President Hu Jintao first put forward the notion of creating a harmonious world at the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005.

[25] On May 7th, 2008, the Chinese Government purposely arranged the China Philharmonic Orchestra to perform for Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican and Pope gave his blessings to the Beijing Olympic Games. Isn’t this what the Chinese Government had been hoping for at that moment? Had the Government agencies concerned arranged to get in touch with the Pope and asked him to bless the Holy Fire before the March protest against the torch relay, would there have been so many people to resist and desecrate the Holy Fire blessed in the name of God?

[26]This kind of doubt, defense, and mistrust is spreading out like a epidemic. To use “trustworthiness and untrustworthiness” to evaluate a Chinese Church leader has become a standard practice both in and outside of China. In actuality, the political persecution from outside makes one more solid with his or her faith, but the mistrust, suppression and hurts from those in Christ hurts people much worse and deeper.

[27] SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:49-56, Exegesis by Richard Niell Donovan, 2004.

[28] John Fuellenbach, “Throw Fire”, (Manila: Logos [Divine World] Publications, Inc. 1998), pp. 20-21.

[29] SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:49-56, Exegesis by Richard Niell Donovan, 2004.

[30] See Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 3.

[31] What led to Judas’ death was his guilt, disappointment and lack of trust (Mt. 27: 3-5), not God’s punishment.

[32] Gilbert Ostdiek, “Who’s Invited,” Word and World 17 (Winter 1997), 70.

[33] The Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI, at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Thursday, 9 April 2009.

[34] See Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 8.

[35] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est. No. 25.

[36] Ibid. No. 15.

[37] Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, “Inspiration from St. Stephen’s Martyrdom,” Kung Kao Po. January 4th, 2009.

[38] Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China. No. 6.