29 January 2022

The “Great Helmsman” Bombards Hong Kong, and the Church is Under Fire Too

Is the Vatican preparing to sell out the little bit of the Church in China that still enjoys a modicum of freedom from the Red Slavemasters?

From Settimo Cielo

By Sandro Magister

October will see the expiration of the provisional and secret agreement between the Holy See and China on the appointment of bishops, signed on September 22 2018 and renewed for another two years in 2020. It is too soon to say if it will be reconfirmed in a more stable form. Of course, what is not provisional is the overweening power of Xi Jinping, who since December has also been awarded the highly symbolic title of “Great Helmsman,” like only Mao Zedong before him.

This implies that the political stance dictated by Xi is unconditional and for the long term, with very narrow if not non-existent margins of negotiation for an inherently weak opposing side like the Vatican. In fact, in the selection of new bishops China’s dominance is overwhelming and the exception represented by the diocese of Hong Kong, which is exempt from the 2018 agreement, is also in serious danger. Last year Rome appointed the current bishop without having to run the selection past the Chinese authorities. But a month before the new bishop was consecrated, Beijing took a step that foreshadowed China’s almost complete domination not only over the metropolis of Hong Kong, already underway, but also over the vibrant Catholic Church present in the former British colony.

The new bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow Sau-yan, 62, a Jesuit, was consecrated last December 4. Well then, on October 31 an unprecedented meeting took place in the city, initially kept secret but then covered by the Reuters agency in a December 30 report.

The meeting was sponsored by Beijing’s Central Government Liaison Office in Hong Kong, with supervision from the mainland by the State Administration of Religious Affairs.

Taking part for China were three bishops and 15 religious of the official Church recognized by the Beijing government, and two bishops and 13 religious for Hong Kong.

The leader of the the Hong Kong delegation was Peter Choy Wai-man, the docile prelate whom the Chinese authorities would have gladly seen at the head of the diocese. Chow, the newly designated bishop, took part in the meeting only briefly at the beginning, while the event was opened and closed by Cardinal John Tong Hon, bishop emeritus and temporary administrator of the diocese. Taken for granted was the absence of the ninety-year-old cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, emblem of the opposition to the Chinese government and severe critic of the agreement between the Vatican and Beijing.

The delegates from the mainland insisted that Hong Kong as well be put completely under the policy of the so-called “sinicization” of religions, with a more marked subordination of the Catholic Church to the distinctive traits of China, those dictated by the Communist Party and the state.

The “sinicization” of religions is a policy cornerstone for Xi, whose practical agenda was well known to the participants at the meeting. Over the span of the whole day no one mentioned the president of China, but “Xi was the elephant in the room,” a member of the Hong Kong delegation told Reuters. “Some of us see ‘sinicization’ as code for ‘Xi-nification’.”

The Hong Kong meeting was by no means an isolated initiative. In early December, Xi gave a speech in Beijing as part of a “National Conference on Work Related to Religious Affairs,” in which he reiterated that all religions in China must submit to the Communist Party, which is entitled to “set the course for religious activity,” for the sake of a full “sinicization.”

But above all one must take into account the fundamental document approved on November 11 by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, with the title of “Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century.”

Such a resolution is the third in the whole history of communist China. The first was with Mao Zedong in 1945, the second with Deng Xiaoping in 1981, and this third, at the behest of Xi Jinping, relates to the others as a sort of Hegelian synthesis, with the ambition of incorporating the best of what Mao did, the thesis, and corrected by Deng, the antithesis.

In its fifth section, the resolution criticizes the Western democratic system, made up of constitutionalism, alternation of government, and separation of powers, a system that if adopted “could potentially lead China to ruin.”

But in particular he rejects “Western-style religious liberty.” In China, “religions must be Chinese in orientation” and constantly subjected to the “active guidance” of the Communist Party “for the adaptation of religions to socialist society.”

At the Vatican they are quite familiar with this policy and try to domesticate it as “complementary” to the Catholic vision of “inculturation.” In May 2019, in an interview with the newspaper “Global Times,” an English-language expression of the Chinese Communist Party, cardinal secretary of state Pietro Parolin said that “inculturation” and “sinicization” together “can open paths for dialogue,” bearing in mind “the reiterated intention” of the Chinese authorities “not to undermine the nature and doctrine of each religion.”

But the most in-depth apologia for “sinicization” to come out of the Vatican still remains the article published in March 2020 in the magazine “La Civiltà Cattolica” - as always with the prior approval of the secretariat of state and Pope Francis - by the Jesuit sinologist Benoit Vermander.

The author compares those who today oppose “sinicization” - mentioning by name Cardinal Zen and then director of “Asia News” Bernardo Cervellera - with the Montanist and Donatist heretics of the first centuries, intransigent in condemning the Christians who had given in to the demands of the Roman Empire.

Vermander defends in full both the agreement between the Holy See and China of September 2018 and the concomitant message of Pope Francis to Chinese Catholics, with the subsequent Vatican instruction on how to register with the official Church.

But above all he highlights what he considers the good side of “sinicization”: the fact that “Article 36 of the Chinese Constitution continues to formally guarantee religious freedom”; the more benevolent treatment adopted by the Chinese authorities with Catholics in comparison with followers of other religions; the younger generations’ capacity for adaptation; the patience instilled in Chinese Catholics by love for their country, “without seeking martyrdom at any cost.”

As evidence of this, Vermander extols the vitality of a Shanghai parish he knows, in which everything seems to be working out for the best, in spite of the fact that “priests must regularly participate in ‘training courses’ organized by the Religious Affairs Office.”

Curiously, however, the Jesuit does not mention the fact that the bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, has been under house arrest from the day of his ordination in 2012, simply for having left the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the main instrument with which the regime controls the Church. He could not even win clemency with the act of public submission to which he bowed in 2015, amid the applause - also to no avail - of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” which called his gesture an exemplary model of “reconciliation between the Church in China and the Chinese government.”

Not to mention the complete, prolonged silence of Pope Francis on this and on the many other wounds inflicted by the Xi regime on the Catholics of China and of Hong Kong, the latter already heavily persecuted and now very close to ending up entirely under the dominion of the new “Great Helmsman.”

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