Catholicism in China Serves Society and Promotes Sicinization

Yongning Catholic Church in Beijing
Yongning Catholic Church in Beijing (photo: Beijing Catholic Committee)
By Lan XifengFebruary 1st, 2018

The past five years saw the vigor of Catholicism in China.

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CCPA) and Chinese Catholic Bishops College (CCBC) have led the clergy and laity to carry out charity events and social service, winning understanding and respect from Chinese society and composing a new chapter of the Catholic church in China.

Serving society with love

"Accompany souls with life." Sister Fan Huimin uses the word to motivate herself.

Fan works in the AIDS prevention division of Jinde Charities, the first Catholic non-profit civil social service organization in China.

The most important part of her work is to enlighten AIDS sufferers to whom death is inseparable and care for their families, which helps them feel love, warmth, and restore their psychological and emotional health.

Fan said, "Once an HIV infected person hugged me and kept crying when she saw me. She refused to listen whatever comforting words I said and just wept in my arms. My legs started to shiver over time, but I couldn't push her away. I knew that I should be a companion for her who needed acceptance, care, company, and dependence."

"I want to accompany the soul with life until she walks out of pain." She added. 

In China, a group of sisters offers family-like love to people living with AIDS with constancy. On behalf of the Catholic church, they provide material and mental support to HIV positive people, reigniting faith and hope for them. For AIDS patients, the sisters are like light in a dark night in the distance.

They also create lovely homes for abandoned babies with disabilities in ten Catholic orphanages like Teresa Home in Jilin and Liming Family in Hebei.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me... whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:35-36, 40) The passages inspire the Catholic community in China to witness faith with love.

A total donation of more than180 million yuan was given by the Chinese Catholic church for philanthropic projects in the last five years.

Jinde Charities becomes a charitable social service agency offering disaster relief, poverty alleviation, education support, senior care, and volunteer training. The Catholic NGO raised over 68 million yuan for disaster-affected areas and medical assistance in the previous five years, from which nearly 300,000 people benefited.

During the past half a decade, Fujian Catholic Charity Fund started a drive for donations in the Catholic community to support charity work and disaster relief and the donations totaled over 20 million yuan. The Catholic church in Yunnan offered donations of money and material which were worth more than 13 million yuan for natural disasters and financial education assistance.

In 2015, the Chinese Catholic church invested a donation of around one million yuan into poverty reduction in Sandu Shui Autonomous County, Guizhou.

"Charity is better than sacrifice." As of now, the Chinese Catholic church owns more than 20 Catholic comprehensive services in different parishes and over 250 charity service institutes including clinics, specialty hospitals, nursing homes, and orphanages scattered in rural areas and cities. Some leprosariums run by local governments even allow sisters and church volunteers to serve there. Many dioceses like Beijing, Shantou, Leshan, Heilongjiang, Liaoning, Guizhou, Hunan, and Guangxi organized free clinics that reached hundreds of thousands of people.

"The good deeds showed the church's spirit of the gospel, loving your neighbor as yourself. " Said Bishop Ma Yinglin, president of Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China, in the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives.

Independence and self-management of Catholic church

On June 18, 2017, the Father's Day, a priest gave a notebook as a gift to every father in Beijing St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Xibeiwang, after a mass was held. Two women as representatives of the congregation expressed blessing to the fathers.

The Catholic church was just a small prayer place five years ago. The mass used to be conducted in a reception room that could only hold 60 people of a previous Catholic cemetery.In 2013, the church was restored by Priest Zhang Zhimao and Catholic members into a new one with the seating capacity of 200 people. 

Following the principle of independence and self-administration, the Catholicism in China enjoys religious freedom and healthy growth. 

In November 2015, the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the cooperation between the Catholic Church in China and the United Bible Societies (UBS) in printing the Studium Biblicum Version were hosted in the National Seminary of Catholic Church in China. Over 2 million copies of the Chinese Catholic Bible were distributed to Catholic churches, prayer houses, Catholics and people who were interested in the Bible across China and overseas. 

New statistics showed that the Chinese Catholic church in China had 98 parishes, 65 bishops, 3,100 priests, 5,800 sisters, and over 6 million lay followers. China has over 6,000 Catholic churches, nine seminaries, and 619 Catholic Patriotic associations including 516 at the district level. 

For the past five years, more than ten parishes like Wenzhou, Jiangmen, and Yanzhou made "self-election and self-ordination" of bishops and their inauguration. The Catholic church in Jiangsu province adjusted its jurisdiction and provinces like Shandong, Yunnan, and Inner Mongolia sought subsidiary parish.

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and Chinese Catholic Bishops College pushed forward the construction projects of bishop houses in Jiangxi and Handan to improve working conditions in parishes. The two organizations held symposiums on parish administration for five consecutive years and training programs for presidents of sisterhoods in which 1200 sisters from 75 sisterhoods attended. 

Duo Shiguo who heads Bangyang Catholic Church in Ruili, Yunnan, told China Ethnic Paper that the Catholic Diocese of Dali actually handled the church affairs in some parts of Myanmar and that the Catholics near the border between the two countries kept close contact and helped each other. 

The Catholic church in China "adhering to the principles of independence and self-management" was the choice of history. Bishop Ma Yinglin claimed, "This fulfilled the obligations of Catholics as 'people of God' and defended the rights and honor of the Chinese church."

The Catholic church in China continued to promote democratic administration in the past five years. The leaders of CCPA and CCBC led teams to research in provinces like Sichuan, Anhui, and Guizhou and summarized democratic administration experiences. Two symposiums on democratic church administration were held in Heilongjiang and Shandong, in 2013 and 2015 respectively, solidifying the theological basis for a democratic administration. 

Shi Xueqin, 55, is a laywoman from Fuqing, China's southern province of Fujian. She was elected vice-president of Council for the Laity. and director of Council for the Laity.

Shi said, "The laity is an important force in the democratic administration. A certain proportion of laypersons should be involved in meetings of church representatives at all levels and relevant organizations. The clergy should pay attention to and be good at playing the positive role of the laity in evangelization and church development."

In April 2015, CCPA and CCBC hosted a meeting for Council for the Laity and released the "Proclamation of Council for the Laity" concerning the status, mission, and responsibility of the laity. The statement showed a remarkable rise in the laity's status and part in the Catholic church. 

Meanwhile, the Catholic church in mainland China kept friendship and exchanges with Catholic churches from over 20 countries and Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. It also took an active part in exchanges initiated by World Conference on Religion and Peace(WCRP) and Asian Conference on Religions and Peace (ACRP) and international interreligious conferences. 

Catholic theologians from France, Spain, Belgium, and Italy gave short-term lessons and held academic exchanges, seminars, and retreats in China. CCPA and CCBC led a delegation of priests and nuns on visits abroad, disseminating China's policy on freedom of religious belief, the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the church as well as the development of Catholicism in China. The Chinese Catholic church partnered with UBS to print Bibles and provide medical service.

The healthy development of Catholicism in China resulted from the cultivation of the clergy. CCPA and CCBC carried out various kinds of training in the National Seminary of Catholic Church in China and trained a team of middle-aged clerics with higher theological attainments and political quality. The state-affiliated organizations chose and developed management, foreign language, and theological research talents, and speeded up training core parishioners. 

Committed to sinicizing Catholicism and fitting Chinese traditional culture and socialist society 

Four centuries ago, the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci arrived in China. During his long-term evangelistic efforts in China, he created the "Matteo Ricci rules" commended by the Kangxi Emperor: growing a long beard, wearing Confucian garb, worshiping the Heaven and ancestors, and honoring Confucius. The "rules" opened China's doors the third time after Christianity entered the country in the Tang and Yuan Dynasties. 

However, his successor abandoned the rules shortly after his death, resulting in the Chinese Rites controversy that lasted for about as many as three centuries. Christianity lost the chance to be rooted in China again.

In 1939, the Holy See issued a decree, claiming that heaven worshiping and ancestral rites were considered to be "legal and normal" traditional Chinese ceremonies. That led to the conclusion of the controversy. But the dispute over Chinese rituals didn't really end in the past over seven decades. The inculturation of Christianity in China remained a realistic obstacle for Christian faith to taking root in China. 

"The future of Catholicism in China lies in the commitment to the sinicization of the religion." Said Bishop Ma Yinglin. He stated that missionaries like Matteo Ricci used the traditional Chinese culture to interpret Catholic doctrines and found a road for Catholicism to grow in the country. 

"We should bear in mind the historical experience, require doctrines and rules to adapt to the development in today's China, explain them according to traditional Chinese culture, and construct local theology, which is the most important thing for Catholicism."

The Conference on "Matteo Ricci and Nanchang: Inculturation of the Church in China" kicked off in Nanchang in March 2017. More than 100 scholars, Catholic and Christian clerics and believers at home and abroad discussed the evangelism methods used by Ricci in Nanchang and the "Matteo Ricci rules" to promote the sinicization of Christianity. 

Before the conference, Hebei Faith Institute of Cultural Studies annually conducted seminars on the inculturation of Catholicism in China and social inclusion in Beijing, Hong Kong, and Shijiazhuang. 

The provincial CCPAs and CCBCs and dioceses in Beijing, Liaoning, Jiangsu, Shandong, and Ningxia held theological seminars as well. The national CCPA and CCBC conducted forums concerning Chinese Catholic theology and published collections of papers on the inculturation of Catholicism. 

The Resolution of the Ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives focused on studying and acting on the thinking laid out in the important speeches of General Secretary Xi Jinping and guiding principles from the national conference on religious work. It stressed on the continuation of sinicizing Catholicism and mining content beneficial to social harmony, the progress of the era, and human civilization in Catholic doctrines and rules, the promotion of forming a Chinese Catholic theology, the implementation of extensive researches, and the theory construction of the sinicization of Catholicism.

In July 2017, CCPA and CCBC deliberated the Outline of the Five-year Plan for Promoting Sinicization of Catholicism (draft). The outline covered placing the sinicization of Catholicism at the core of the development of the Catholic church, understanding the Chinese Catholic church history through the perspective of the sinicization, boosting the theological studies of the Chinese Catholic church by sinicizing Christianity, promoting evangelism and nurturing by applying the sinicization into practice, and guiding Chinese Catholic architecture, art, and rites under the sinicizitional direction.

Fang Xingyao, CCPA's president, said, "The Catholic church development history spanning over 2,000 years told us that the church must adapt to its social system environment and the seed of the gospel should fit the national conditions and historical and cultural traditions before taking root, growing, and bearing fruit. " 

- Translated by Karen Luo

The article was originally posted on China Ethnic Paper with the Chinese name "天主教在中国:服务社会 持续推进中国化". CCD translated it with permission.

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