Clarifying the fate of the underground Church and the Patriotic Association

From March 20 to 23, President Xi Jinping will be in Italy. Rumours are already circulating in China of a possible meeting with Pope Francis.

Mar 16, 2019

By Bernardo Cervellera
From March 20 to 23, President Xi Jinping will be in Italy. Rumours are already circulating in China of a possible meeting with Pope Francis. Should this be the case, it would be important to clarify the fate of the underground Church and the Patriotic Association.

The Sino-Vatican agreement and the lifting of the excommunication of seven illegitimate bishops seem to have endorsed the idea that by now the only way to live one’s faith in China is in the official Church and that the underground community must disappear.

This position is also strengthened by the push towards reconciliation and unity requested by Pope Francis with his Message to Chinese Catholics and to the Universal Church, published a few days after the signing of the agreement.

In it, quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Francis affirms that the phenomenon of clandestine gatherings “are not a normal part of the life of the Church”, but adds — again citing Benedict — that “pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith”.

In the Message, Pope Francis asks all the faithful to “work towards reconciliation” and “restore full communion among all Chinese Catholics”, he urges them to “offer gestures of reconciliation and communion“ and to “overcome the divisions of the past”.

He has also asked the pastors to establish “ever more fruitful ... relations between the leaders of ecclesial communities and the civil authorities. These relations or encounters can become more productive through frank dialogue and impartial listening, thereby overcoming antagonism on both sides”.

The papal Message, therefore, speaks of a process of reconciliation, but does not say that it must be achieved by eliminating the underground community. Moreover, it does not say that unofficial bishops and priests should be forced to join the Patriotic Association (PA).

In this regard the Sino-Vatican agreement — which unfortunately has yet to be published — stresses that membership of the PA is optional and not mandatory. This aspect is deduced from a note by Prof Wang Meixiu, from the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing who, commenting on the agreement for AsiaNews, says that the PA is “a popular organisation” and not an ecclesial association; and that “participation is voluntary and not imposed”.

Also Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, in an interview with the Osservatore Romano of February 3, 2019, said that he does not hope to hear or read about local situations in which the Agreement is being violated, compelling people to do what is not even required by Chinese law, such as joining the Patriotic Association.

Unfortunately, this is precisely what is happening in Xinjian, Inner Mongolia, Henan, Zhejiang, Hubei. The Religious Affairs Office continues to demand and encourage priests and bishops to join the PA and its project of “independence” (from the Holy See). Even the incident in Xuanhua (Hebei), where a priest — supported by the local government — accuses his bishop, Msgr Augustus Cui Tai of “resistance” to the Sino-Vatican agreement and urges the police to arrest him, showing how the falsely “patriotic” and “independent” mentality is also being imposed on the clergy.

When President Xi Jinping is in Italy, there is some hope of a meeting with Pope Francis. They could clarify some of the directives that are misinterpreted by the officials. --AsiaNews

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