The Church in China (1949) consisted of :
39 Apostolic Prefectures
2,557 Chinese priests (Total : 5,637 priests)
4 million Catholics
The Church in China (2014) consists of :
34 Apostolic Prefectures
1 Apostolic Exarchates
3,500 priests (approximate)
12 million Catholics (both open and underground)
Looking at the above comparisons, we can see a wary future for the Church in China, which had been in official and unofficial persecution for the past six and a half decades since 1949, the year when the Communist Party of China took over power in China. Since then, the Church in China, which was once among the most vibrant and fastest growing in the world, had been in great tribulation and period of persecution. Especially during the Cultural Revolution years in the 1960s, there were great attacks against the faithful and the faith throughout the country.
On one side, it seems that there had been a growth in the number of Catholics and in terms of the growth in the number of the dioceses. However, if we look deeper into the reality of the Church and the faith, there had been a great trouble that threatened many of the faithful, especially being divided between the ‘official’ government-sanctioned ‘church’ and the underground ‘loyal’ Church.
Many of the Archdioceses and dioceses are vacant, or that their bishops are not recognised as valid and legitimate, having often been government-picked, and more of a loyal men to the government rather than true and good shepherds for the faithful. Many of the bishops were picked by the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association or CPCA, whose leaders have often been noted to be not just laymen, but even non-baptised people.
There had been much grievances and controversies in the recent years in the illegitimate and illegal election and ordination of bishops by the CPCA and the Chinese government which were not approved by the Holy See. On some occasions, the bishops did receive blessing from both parties, but in many other cases, it was the contrary. This further deepened the division among the faithful in China.
Many of China’s priests and bishops are underground, that is they remain faithful and loyal to the completeness of the faith in the Church, and unaffected by the pressure from the government to obey them. There had been great persecution against them and the faithful under their care, such that imprisonments and forced labour are not uncommon.
And recently, just almost two years ago, the then newly appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin bravely and courageously announced his resignation from the CPCA, the official ‘church’ of China at his own episcopal ordination, which was done with the blessing of the Holy See and the Pope. This resignation triggered a massive response from the government which resulted in his incarceration for the past two years, and he had greatly suffered for this. His episcopal motto is clear and indeed clearly highlighted his wish for the unity of the Church in China with the Universal Church, free from any external intervention. His motto is “Ut Sint Unum ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam” or “That they may be One, for the greater glory of God.”
The Church in China still grows, and more and more people hunger for the truth that Christ can offer them. There are many opportunities at evangelisation, and many brave and courageous ministers of the Lord’s Gospel went forth even against the challenges that await them. The recent attacks by the government on the Christian faith, as shown by the demolition of a church building in Wenzhou show how much the authoritarian government fears the power and influence that the Church and the faith may have in bringing about their downfall. The downfall of Communism and the authoritarian governments in Eastern Europe must still be fresh in the minds of the autocrats in Beijing, and they fear their own demise if they allow the faith to grow unchecked.
There is still great hope in the Church in China, and there is genuine faith in the people, who desire to be reunited completely with their brethren in faith, all of us, in the Universal Church, and be freed from any form of pressure or external domination, which are unjust and uncalled for. But they need our prayers, our support and our encouragement.
Let us ask for the intercession of the Blessed Mother of our Lord, Mary, the Help of Christians, who in the above picture is depicted as our Lady of Zose or Sheshan, from a famous pilgrimage site in Sheshan near Shanghai. Let us ask for her intercession for the Church in China and for the faithful there, our brethren in faith. Just as once the Lord had done His great works through Pope St. John Paul II, another great saint, to cast down the tyranny of atheism and unbelief in the states of Eastern Europe and Russia, may our Lady of Sheshan also intercede for the sake of our brethren in faith in China, a great nation and a great civilisation and yet is filled with worldly hatred of the devil who hates the Church and all its faithful.
We also pray that there will be a new spirit of dialogue and renewal, and that those entrusted with power at the top of the Chinese government hierarchy will finally realise the futility and the inhumane nature of their attempts to control the Church and the faithful. We hope that there will be an amicable and peaceful solution, that the Church in China may be completely reunited once again with the Universal Church, free from all the current issues and dilemmas, and free from any political arguments and intrusions by any external forces.
May the Lord be with His people always, protect them, bless them, and guide them to the light of Christ. May He give them rest and grace, after all the difficulties and challenges that they have faced, in the courageous and zealous defense of their faith in Him. Amen.