Beijing (Agenzia Fides) - The "Qingming Feast", a day in which, according to Chinese tradition, ancestors and the dead are commemorated, falls every year on April 4 or 5. On this anniversary, the Catholic Church in China also remembers priests and nuns who died in the previous twelve months. This year, the commemoration of tCatholic communities has to deal with the high number of mostly elderly nuns and priests, decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic. And even this eventuality prompts consideration of other data and other phenomena, such as the aging of the Catholic clergy, the decrease in priestly and religious vocations.
In the year 2022, the Catholic Church in China lost at least 13 priests and 7 nuns, according to partial data provided by Xinde (authoritative online Catholic newspaper in Chinese). Most of the deaths occurred in the context of the "massacre of the elderly" that swept the entire country when strict measures to combat the Covid-19 pandemic were drastically set aside. Among the deceased bishops and priests, 7 were over 75 years of age, while 6 were under the age of 65. Also 4 of the 7 deceased nuns were over the age of 75, while the other 3 were under 65.
The years that pass, and also unpredictable phenomena such as the pandemic, are gradually fading generations of priests and nuns born before 1949. Little by little figures we unfortunately we witness the loss of pastors and nuns who, as young people, had gone through the tribulations of the time of the Cultural Revolution, and then, with their faith and spiritual strength, were precious and beloved points of reference in the restarts of so many Catholic communities. Now, priests and nuns who had had their period of formation in the 1980s, after the "Reform and Opening" led by Deng Xiaoping, are also beginning to join the ranks of the elderly. Thus, the question of the progressive aging of the Catholic clergy in China is beginning to come to the fore in an increasingly obvious and pressing way, at a time when vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life appear to be declining.
The Christian faith recognizes and confesses that death is not the end of life, but the beginning of new life. Communion with those who have returned to the Father's house, accompanies the days of the pilgrim Church on earth. This experience consoles and fills with peace the pain in local communities, where the loss of priests and religious, elderly or not, is perceived as a serious loss.
Every single priestly and religious vocation is precious. Many remember how much material and spiritual energy was spent in the 1980s and 1990s to encourage and accompany new vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. At that time, the reopening of Seminaries and Novitiates fueled enthusiasm and hopes. The young priests and young nuns, together with the laity, characterized the life of the communities with their youthful enthusiasm, treasuring the Christian wisdom of the elderly priests and nuns with whom they shared that missionary "restart".
Now, the present time is marked by new emergencies and new fragilities. And in the new circumstances, the communities' prayers ask that the simple and courageous faith that was felt in so many nuns and priests in past decades be given to the clergy and women religious.
In recent years, the untimely deaths of bishops, priests and nuns have also called to mind the urgency of caring for the physical and spiritual condition of people who sometimes neglect their health while spending their lives in apostolic work, or find themselves alone in facing illness and frailty.
In the past two years, some premature deaths of nuns and priests have marked the lives of several communities. In Yixian Diocese, Hebei Province, everyone now mourns Sister Maria Yang Huilin, of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and complain that her premature death (she was 50 years old) was due to a poorly treated intestinal disease. On March 10, 2022, 59-year-old Wu Junwei, Bishop of Yuncheng (Shanxi), had died of a heart attack, after tiring years in which he had spared no effort in promoting catechism courses, accompanying the construction of new churches, promoting in every way the holding of ordinary pastoral and community initiatives even in the difficult time of the pandemic. While in the Catholic community of Tibet everyone remembers that also Fr Joseph Ma Zhaxi, a man of solitary life and prayer, died prematurely in January 2020, at the age of only 39, after spending his short life in extreme poverty: He who never shirked the effort of crossing the cold and bad mountain weather on his motorcycle to go and bring comfort and sacraments to the most distant families in his parish. (NZ) (Agenzia Fides, 3/4/2023)