Catholicism has a strong legacy in China that is integral to seeking a comprehensive understanding of the Christian faith in China both past and present. The strength and growth of Catholicism in the context of Chinese society and what it has to offer is likewise of great benefit to the whole of the Christian church.
Catholicism in China can trace its roots back as early as the late 13th century when the Italian Franciscan Friar John of Montecorvino arrived in Beijing to spread the gospel. In later years, through the efforts of famed missionary Matteo Ricci and his fellow Jesuits in the 16th century, and the later establishment of universities, hospitals, and orphanages during the Republican era, the pervasive influence of the Catholic Church in Chinese society left an imprint on Chinese history and culture that can be seen and felt through the present day. The events of the last century have also seen Chinese Catholics share a common experience and test of faith with their Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ, having undergone much of the same suffering and trials through China’s tumultuous modern era.
While serving in China, I am constantly reminded of the strength of the faith of China’s Catholics. I have seen their faith carry them through much adversity, motivate them to witness their faith to family and friends, and come together as a faith community of encouragement and support. While the challenges of boldly living out the Christian faith within Chinese society are often relentless and overwhelming—much as in Western society—their faith is demonstrated best through their steadfast loyalty and obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ. In spite of not having such strong, foreign missionary support as their Protestant brethren, Catholics in China are finding ways to grow in their faith and increase their number. Much of this is owed to a robust faith foundation among the indigenous church with many faith communities able to trace their Christian roots back several generations to the early Catholic missionaries and local clergy from the Ricci era. Primarily, though, it is the hope that is found in Christ and his merciful love and understanding that attracts so many Chinese to the Catholic faith.
My hope is that these articles will provide a small window into very diverse aspects of the Catholic faith in China that will help spark greater understanding among all Christians who care about China. In recent years, I have witnessed a gradual increase in ecumenical outreach among Catholics and Protestants in China that is very heartening. As the often more charismatic flame of the Spirit within many Protestant traditions blends with the rich spiritual tradition and devotions of the Catholic Church, an ever greater number of Chinese are being drawn into the Christian faith. Indeed, the ecumenical dialogue that unites the Body of Christ has done well to serve both Catholics and Protestants to grow in their understanding of their faith and deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ throughout the world—and China is no different.
So as we journey forth in our own respective calling in service of the One True God, let us recall the divinely inspired words of St. Paul the Apostle: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Amen.
Photo Credit: Gaylan Yeung
Tricia Bølle has been working with young adults in universities and local faith communities for since 2008. A graduate of Stanford University, she founded an educational nonprofit, DEI in Asia, to develop programs and training to promote personal growth, civic engagement, women’s issues, crisis intervention, and psychological well-being among Chinese university …View Full Bio