Retired Bishop of Hong Kong on the situation of the church in China
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun was a guest of Aid to the Church in Need Germany at the Day of Encounters that was held at the german pilgrimage site at Kevelaer on 13 May. He talked with Berthold Pelster (ACN Germany) about the role of the Catholic church in rebuilding Chinese society and why the communists are afraid of the Madonna of Fatima.
Aid to the Church in Need: Over the last four decades, the People’s Republic of China has undergone enormous social change: reforms, especially economic ones, have enabled its advancement to a major economic and technological power. What role does Communist ideology still play in this process today?
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun: Actually, the leadership in China never really took Communist ideology very seriously. Instead, Chinese communism is a form of unbridled imperialism. Rampant corruption, also within the party, attests to this. Everything is about power. Absolute obedience to state leadership is the only thing that counts. And through the opening of the economic sector and growing affluence, this is all just getting worse. Wealth fuels corruption to ever greater levels.
Political observers say that the human rights situation has actually deteriorated under the current president, Xi Jinping. What observations have you made?
In the beginning, I had high hopes because the president took action against corruption in the government and society. But it very quickly became evident that he was also only interested in power. People who are fighting for human rights are suppressed, persecuted, humiliated and convicted in propaganda trials in the name of his government.
Can you tell us something about the current status of the negotiations between the Chinese leadership and the Holy See?
Unfortunately, little is known about these talks. There are still a lot of other problems. I expect that the talks will still take a long time. In my opinion, the state leadership will not accept any other outcome than the subjugation of the church to the leadership of the Communist party. Bishops of the underground church, for example, were forced to attend political training courses during Holy Week and could therefore not celebrate the liturgy with believers. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of reconciliation in his letter to the Catholics in China in 2007 and for him, this largely meant spiritual reconciliation. But much still needs to be done!
That sounds very pessimistic. What do you expect will happen to Christianity in China?
Everything depends on whether we manage to live our faith authentically – without making a lot of compromises. There are Christians in China who bravely advocate a better society. However, many of them are in prison! Should communism fall one day, then the Catholics should be among those who build up a new China. However, that only works if the Catholics did not already squander their credibility beforehand by making lazy compromises with the Communist leadership.
These days, we Catholics are remembering the appearances of Our Lady of Fatima that take place exactly 100 years ago. The messages of Our Lady of Fatima warn us of the godless ideology of communism. Are the Catholics in China aware of these messages?
Of course! All of us have heard of the messages of Fatima. Even the communists! They make them very anxious. The communists are actually afraid of Our Lady of Fatima! The whole situation is becoming ludicrous: for example, the communists have nothing against you bringing pictures of “Maria Immaculata” or depictions of the miraculous image “Mary, Help of Christians” into China from another country. Pictures of “Our Lady of Fatima”, on the other hand, are not allowed. They consider the events in Fatima to be “anti-communist”. Which is of course nothing but the truth!
So the leadership makes distinctions. And yet, the veneration of Mary under the title “Help of Christians” also holds special meaning for China: on its feast day, 24 May, the Catholic church holds a worldwide prayer day for the church in China. Pope Benedict XVI introduced this day in 2007. What is the significance of this prayer day?
The veneration of Our Lady under the title “Help of Christians” is deeply rooted all over China and has been so for a long time. This title not only refers to help for individual believers, but also to help for the church as a whole. The chief danger in China today is materialistic atheism. Unfortunately, this prayer day, which is valid for the Catholic church all over the world, is far too little known. It is not taken seriously enough.