Sunday, February 17, 2013

Understanding the Church in China

Both Catholic papers carried  the story of a Chinese priest invited by the Cardinal Kim Research Center in Seoul to discuss the current condition of the Church in China and its prospects for the future. Reliable accounts are difficult to find because Catholicism there is split into two factions: the patriotic (approved by the government) and the so-called underground Church. The government diligently guards against all interference from outside the country and everyone is told (including religious persons) that their country must come first before all other considerations.Those who have refused to accept this mandate are what has been called the underground Church.

In his speech the priest stressed the importance of having men like Cardinal Kim in the Chinese Church, which needs organizing around the metaphor of the circle rather than the more traditional structure of a pyramid. He also pointed out that the Catholics of China do not have a strong evangelizing spirit, but leave this task to the priests and sisters. This problem can be solved, he believes, if the Church is seen more as a tightly knit community, with members sharing their beliefs and putting them into action in the community setting (the circle metaphor), instead of relying on the pyramid metaphor: seeing the Church as a loose collection of members waiting for instructions from the top of the organization before taking action. Although the Church is ultimately responsible, he said, for its weak position in Chinese society, with few capable leaders, a lack of good formation programs for seminarians, and little ongoing education for priests, he explained that the materialism and hedonism of the society stifles whatever message the Church succeeds in publicizing. 

There are about 6 million Catholics in China, recognized by the government, and about 6 million more, he says, in the underground Church. The government recognizes five religious groups: Buddhists, Protestants, Muslims, Taoists, and Catholics. In 1949, with the inception of the Republic of China, there were 3 million Catholics and about 700,000 Protestants in the country. The tendency of Buddhism to stress blessings,  and the strong missionary efforts of the Protestants have made these two religions the largest in China. And today, many Chinese holding influential positions in society are converting to Buddhism.

Catholic vocations are few, and the formation of seminarians is poorly done and, as expected, the underground church is struggling. The one-child per family decree has added to the problem but the example of the priests on the young, he says, is not one the young want to follow.

After the talk, a Korean priest of the Foreign Missionary Society of Korea said he had a problem with how the circle and pyramid styles of the Church had been explained. He agrees that the ideal way to understand the metaphors is to give the Pope his rightful place within the circle; he felt that China has opted for the  Anglican model of Church.  It is this model, the Korean priest believes, that the Chinese government wants all religions in their country to follow. If successful, this approach, he says, could be used by the government to making Catholicism independent of world Catholicism. Which is exactly what has happened.

The Chinese priest, in his final remarks, said he was glad to receive the invitation to speak. And Since China had a great deal to do with bringing Christianity to Korea, he sees his invitation as a call for mutual help between the two countries. He hopes that his country will eventually have many men like Cardinal Kim, a man who had great love for his country of Korea, and was a great example to his people.

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