“Why we are in dialogue with China?”

Interview with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, who responds to the accusations made against the Holy See regarding the ongoing contacts, “We trust that the Chinese faithful, thanks to their spirit of faith, will know how to recognise that our action is animated by trust in the Lord and does not answer to worldly logic.”

Feb 09, 2018

By Gianni Valente
Several signals (including opaque operations, actual political manipulations, and even sabotage) indicate that important developments may occur in contacts between the Holy See and the Government of the People’s Republic of China. The time is right to listen to an authoritative word, which will help to grasp what the Pope and the Holy See really have at heart. And, with our Chinese brothers and sisters in mind, help to dispel suspicions and artificial fumes, to look at the ecclesial heart of the whole question, outside politicised narratives. For this reason, Vatican Insider interviewed Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness.

VATICAN INSIDER: Eminence, what can you tell us about the dialogue between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China?

CARDINAL PIETRO PAROLIN: “As it is well known, with the advent of “New China,” there were, for the life of the Church in that great country, moments of serious contrasts and severe suffering. Since the eighties, however, contacts have been established between representatives of the Holy See and of the People’s Republic of China, who have known different seasons and alternating events. The Holy See has always maintained a pastoral approach, trying to overcome the contrasts and making itself available for a respectful and constructive dialogue with the civil authorities. Pope Benedict XVI well represented the spirit of this dialogue in his 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics: “the solution to existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities ” (n. 4). In Pope Francis’ pontificate, the ongoing negotiations move exactly along these lines: constructive openness to dialogue and fidelity to the genuine Tradition of the Church.”

What are the concrete expectations of the Holy See from this dialogue?
“First of all, I would like to make a premise: in China, perhaps more than elsewhere, Catholics have been able to preserve, despite the many difficulties and sufferings, the authentic deposit of faith, keeping firmly the bond of hierarchical communion between the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, as a visible guarantee of faith itself. In fact, communion between the Bishop of Rome and all Catholic Bishops touches the heart of the Church’s unity: it is not a private matter between the Pope and the Chinese Bishops or between the Apostolic See and civil authorities. Having said that, the main purpose of the Holy See in the ongoing dialogue is precisely that of safeguarding communion within the Church, in the wake of genuine Tradition and constant ecclesiastical discipline. You see, in China, there are not two Churches, but two communities of faithful called to follow a gradual path of reconciliation towards unity. It is not, therefore, a matter of maintaining a perennial conflict between opposing principles and structures, but of finding realistic pastoral solutions that allow Catholics to live their faith and to continue together the work of evangelisation in the specific Chinese context.”

The communion of which you have spoken calls into question the delicate issue of the episcopal appointments, which are stirring up much controversy. Will a potential agreement on this issue succeed in resolving the problems of the Church in China in a fair manner?
“The Holy See knows and shares the serious sufferings endured by many Catholics in China and their generous witness to the Gospel. She knows that there are many problems for the life of the Church and that they cannot all be solved together. But, in this context, the question of the appointment of Bishops is crucial. On the other hand, we cannot forget that the freedom of the Church and the appointment of Bishops have always been recurring themes in the relations between the Holy See and the States. Certainly, the path started with China through the current contacts is gradual and still exposed to many unforeseen events, as well as new possible emergencies. No one can say in conscience that they have perfect solutions for all problems. Time and patience are needed to heal the many personal wounds inflicted on each other within the communities. Unfortunately, it is certain that there will still be misunderstandings, fatigue and suffering to be faced. But, we all have confidence that, once the issue of the Episcopal appointments has been adequately considered, the remaining difficulties should no longer be such as to prevent Chinese Catholics from living in communion with each other and with the Pope. This is the important thing, so long-awaited and desired already by Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI and today pursued with far-sightedness by Pope Francis.”

What is then the true attitude of the Holy See towards Chinese authorities?
“It is important to reiterate this: in dialogue with China, the Holy See pursues a spiritual aim: to be and feel fully Catholic and, at the same time, authentically Chinese. With honesty and realism, the Church asks nothing but to profess her faith with more serenity, definitively ending a long period of contrasts, in order to give more room for greater trust and offer the positive contribution of Catholics to the good of Chinese society as a whole. Of course, many wounds are still open today. To treat them, we need to use the balm of mercy. And if someone is asked to make a sacrifice, small or great, it must be clear to everyone that this is not the price of a political exchange, but falls within the evangelical perspective of a greater good, the good of the Church of Christ. The hope is that, when God wills it, we won’t have to speak of “legitimate” and “illegitimate” Bishops, “clandestine” and “official” Bishops in the Church in China, but about meeting among brothers and sisters, learning the language of collaboration and communion again. Without this experience, how could the Church in China re-launch the journey of evangelisation and bring to others the consolation of the Lord? If you are not ready to forgive, this means, unfortunately, that there are other interests to defend: but this is not an evangelical perspective.”

If this is the attitude, is there not the risk of erasing the past and present suffering by wiping the slate clean?
“Quite the contrary. Many Chinese Christians, when they celebrate their martyrs who have suffered unjust trials and persecutions, remember that they have been able to rely on God, even in their fragile humanity. Now, the best way to honour this testimony and make it fruitful in the present, is to entrust the present life of Catholic communities in China to the Lord Jesus. But this cannot be done in a spiritualistic and disembodied way. This is done by choosing fidelity to the Successor of Peter, with a spirit of filial obedience, even when not everything appears immediately clear and understandable. About your question, it is not a matter of wiping the slate clean, ignoring, or almost magically erasing the painful path of so many faithful and pastors, but of investing the human and spiritual capital of so many trials to build a more serene and fraternal future, with the help of God. The Spirit who has so far guarded the faith of Chinese Catholics is the same Spirit who supports them today on the new path they have embarked upon.”

Is there an advice, a particular request that the Apostolic See can address to the Chinese faithful at this moment? To those who are happy before potential new developments, but also to those who are confused or have objections?
“I would like to say, with great simplicity and clarity, that the Church will never forget the past and present trials and sufferings of Chinese Catholics. All this is a great treasure for the Universal Church. Therefore, to the Chinese Catholics, I say with great fraternity: we are close to you, not only through prayer, but also through our daily commitment to accompany and support you on the path of full communion. We ask you, therefore, that no one should cling to the spirit of opposition to condemn his brother or use the past as an excuse to stir up new resentments and closures. On the contrary, we hope that each one will look with confidence at the future of the Church, beyond any human limit.”

Your Eminence, do you really believe that this is possible? What is your trust based on?
“I am convinced of one thing. Trust is not the result of the strength of diplomacy or negotiations. Trust is based on the Lord who guides history. We trust that the Chinese faithful, thanks to their sense of faith, will know how to recognise that the action of the Holy See is animated by this trust, which does not respond to worldly logics. It is especially up to the pastors to help the faithful to recognise in the Pope’s guidance the sure reference point for grasping God’s plan in the present circumstances.”

Is the Pope informed of what his collaborators do in their contacts with the Chinese government?
“Yes, the Holy Father personally follows current contacts with the authorities of the People’s Republic of China. All his collaborators act in concert with him. No one takes private initiatives. Frankly, any other kind of reasoning seems to me to be out of place.”

In recent times, critical expressions have emerged, also within the Church, about the approach adopted by the Holy See in dialogue with the Chinese Authorities, judged by some as a true “surrender” for political reasons.

What do you think?
“I think, first of all, that in the Church there is a full right to disagree and to tell one’s own criticisms, and that the Holy See has a moral duty to listen to them and to evaluate them carefully. I am also convinced that, among Christians, criticism should be directed at building communion and not at stirring up divisions. To be frank, I will tell you I am also convinced that part of the suffering experienced by the Church in China is not so much due to the will of individuals as to the objective complexity of the situation. Therefore, it is legitimate to have different views over the most appropriate responses to the problems of the past and present. That is entirely reasonable. Having said that, I think that no personal point of view can be considered as an exclusive interpreter of what is good for Chinese Catholics. Therefore, the Holy See works to find a synthesis of truth and a practicable way to respond to the legitimate expectations of the faithful, inside and outside China. It takes greater humility and spirit of faith to discover together God’s plan for the Church in China. It takes greater caution and moderation on the part of everyone in order not to fall into sterile polemics that hurt communion and rob our hope for a better future.”

What do you mean?
“I mean that we are all called to distinguish more appropriately the spiritual and pastoral dimension from that of politics. Let us start, for example, with the words we use every day. Expressions such as power, betrayal, resistance, surrender, confrontation, failure, compromise, should make room for others, such as service, dialogue, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, collaboration, communion. If you are not prepared to change this approach, there is a serious problem: that of thinking and acting only politically. In this regard, the Holy See hopes for everyone a sincere pastoral conversion inspired by the Gospel of mercy, in order to learn to welcome one another among brothers and sisters, as Pope Francis has often called for.”

What would you say to the Chinese leaders today?
“Look, on this point I would like to refer again to Benedict XVI’s words in his Letter to the Chinese Catholics. He teaches that the mission proper to the Church is not to change the structures or administration of the State, but to proclaim to mankind Christ, the Saviour of the world, relying on the power of God. The Church in China does not want to replace the state, but wants to make a positive and serene contribution for the good of all. Therefore, the Holy See’s message is a message of goodwill, with the hope of continuing the dialogue undertaken in order to contribute to the life of the Catholic Church in China, to the good of the Chinese people and to World peace.” --La Stampa

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