The aim of my article is to discuss, as a Catholic living in China, my perspective and suggestions on the situation of China’s Catholic Church. I was born into a community attached to a military equipment research facility in China and grew up in an environment permeated with atheism and communism. However, I firmly believed that there existed a being transcending the human mind. In my childhood, I did not do well in school. Both at school and beyond, I was treated as an outcast or as somebody like Don Quixote. I was also confused because it seemed as if I was born to search for truth and beauty but was destined not to find them. In 2007, I encountered the Lord Jesus Christ which brought an end to my wandering. I was baptized into the Catholic Church of the Lord Jesus Christ and began a whole new journey of life.
Before I became a Catholic, I never studied theology or philosophy. After I entered the Catholic Church, I came across the encyclicals and pastoral letters of popes, from Leo XIII all the way to Benedict XVI. Their articulation of truth about the Lord Jesus Christ and the church, as well as their relation to society, deeply interested me. In other words, the pontiffs’ rational, careful, and direct ways of explication truly satisfied the need for truth in my heart. This is because in China, most people, confronted with different thoughts and phenomena, try to find a seemingly true “point of balance,” or an ambiguous “gray area.” They also try their best to avoid a thorough investigation which makes it difficult for them to find the grounds for values and a clear direction.
The papal encyclicals and pastoral letters allowed me see that the universal church is the ark of human salvation. This is not only a transcendent truth, but also since the church is the visible presence of the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is the fountainhead of human freedom and conscience. Therefore, the persecution of the holy, catholic, church necessarily extends to every corner of life in society.
Christianity in China is one evidence of this. In China, the government in seeking to minimize the influence of Christianity has created a social ethic that is in opposition to human nature. There is no lack of suffering among the people living under this ethic, and there are multiple scholars who have a sober understanding of its social conditions as well as of its social psychology. However, they lack being informed by a universal value that transcends the secular world––the grounding and direction of freedom and conscience rooted in Christ. The majority of people devolve into cynics in their mocking and ridiculing of secular society as they gradually reach “maturity,” defined by despair and coldness from their disbelief in love and denial of eternity.
This kind of social ethic profoundly impacts many Christians. Their love, that ignores truth, and their indifference in politics—they have “seen through everything”—makes them refuse to participate in improving the world around them and its ethical milieu using the transcendent values of the Christian faith. Sometimes they carry out charitable work by restricting their love to a very limited area—which is not a bad thing in itself. It is not that they do not bring love to people around them, but their actions cannot effectively lead people to understand the necessity of God’s truth and grace. As such, it is difficult to find a firm grounding and conviction for their acts of charity.
Admittedly, due to the approach the Chinese government has taken towards religion and the Catholic Church in particular, there is usually an obvious division between the Catholic clergy and the faithful in China. A part of them ignore the magisterium[i] based on the authority of Christ’s truth. Although they understand that the Catholic Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic,” they do not truly understand the meaning of the Catholic hierarchy. They obstinately disregard this, even after having had it explained to them. They simplistically believe that they have fulfilled their obligation as Catholics by following their own “God in their hearts” and participate in the sacraments and parish events. They might even unknowingly accept the manipulated narrative and denigration of the Catholic Church by the Chinese government by considering the principle of Catholic hierarchy to be some sort of “cultural heritage” that is feudalistic and political. On the other hand, the other camp, although clear about the existence of the Catholic hierarchy, falls into the error of reductionism. They unfairly assign blame for persecution by the Chinese government of China’s Catholic Church entirely on the clergy who are “weak in faith” (but nevertheless culpable). They even insist on this by seeking to exclude the open church from the Catholic Church in China while calling this “loyalty.” This only exacerbates the division within the church.
Since none of the difficulties confronting the Catholic Church in China can be resolved within a short period of time due to the complicated situation, many of the church’s ministries, as well as evangelization, develop very slowly. However, I believe there is a “popular” way of outreach that has not received the attention it deserves: this is the use of social networking and apps.
In China, a country in which information is often blocked, the Internet has become the indispensable window of knowledge. Its breadth and depth in distribution can influence even the moral knowledge of the young generation in China. As for me, before my baptism, all the preaching of the gospel (mostly Protestant) that I came across and the papal encyclicals that I read came from the Internet. There are only two or three influential Catholic web sites and forums accessible to China’s Catholics. Unfortunately, both positive information and defamation of the church by the Chinese government coexist on the same site! What is especially disheartening is that the two major forums are filled with fighting and shouting. I believe, if there could be a positive guide that has the authority of the church on the handful of influential Catholic sites—or even social networks such as Sina Microblogs or QQ[ii] groups—many disputes could be resolved. In addition, many unnecessary misunderstandings between the body of Christ and non-Catholics could be averted, thus paving the way for church unity. Of course, the participation of Catholic “geeks” who are familiar with China’s internet lingo, different directions of various platforms, and popular apps, is essential.
Thus, given the current state of the church and society in China, it is essential that we overcome our differences and utilize newer information technologies such as social media to evangelize China’s citizens with the truth and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then we can better give China a more unified message about the healing of our society and the real hope that it longs for—the merciful love and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1The magisterium (Latin “to teach”) is the teaching authority of the Catholic Church regarding faith and morals.
[ii] The popularly known QQ is an instant messaging software service developed by a Chinese company, Tencent Holdings Limited. QQ offers a variety of services that includes group and voice chat. As of August 2014, there were 829 million active QQ accounts.
Photo Credit: Tricia Bølle