ASIA/CHINA - Grief not removed and hope cherished. Letters and gestures of communion in the Chinese Catholic community at the beginning of the "Year of the Rabbit"

Thursday, 26 January 2023 local churches   pandemic   evangelization  

Harbin (Agenzia Fides) - The Chinese New Year celebrations continue. But loved ones begin to say goodbye, and slowly people begin to return to their ordinary occupations. For many, in recent weeks, moments of joy and forgetfulness have mingled with worried thoughts about what happened during the last pandemic outbreak, and the painful memory of the many elderly people swept away by Covid-19. In many cities, the best-selling flowers on holidays were chrysanthemums, the flowers for the dead.
In the Chinese Catholic communities scattered throughout the country, the simplest gestures of faith have kept the conscienceness of so many awake and alive before reality, preserving them from the social mechanisms of artificial removal of grief. The dead were commemorated in the Masses, and the faith of the communities did not hide but embraced the physical and spiritual sufferings experienced by the Chinese people over the past three years.
An eloquent and public sign of how the faith of the Apostles can illuminate the path of Chinese Catholics in these times of fatigue is the pastoral letter issued at the beginning of the new year by Father Joseph Zhao Hongchun, Apostolic Administrator of Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang province in the northeast of mainland China. A text shared to suggest to all that faith in Christ can comfort hearts and illuminate the path, even at a time when so many people are experiencing suffering and difficulties due to the consequences of the pandemic.
Father Zhao had already written a pastoral letter two years ago to give indications on Christian discernment in the face of the pandemic epidemic. In the new message, Father Zhao emphasizes from the title that taking care of one's health and taking care to preserve it from the onslaught of illness does not express an attitude of selfish calculation, because for every Christian, "good health is a gift to be put at the service of others, for the love of God".
The letter of the Apostolic Administrator of Harbin is articulated around three passages taken from the Sacred Scripture, to highlight the fact that it is only in faith that one can reach out and ask Jesus to give strength and consolation to continue the journey of life and go through the time of trial. "The fear of God", writes Father Zhao quoting a verse from the Book of Proverbs "is the beginning of Wisdom, the knowledge of the Saint is intelligence". In times of pandemic, it is only by staying close to Jesus that we do not get lost, and that He helps us to walk without trying to stun ourselves in order to forget and get out of reality.
The second passage offered by Father Zhao as a source of comfort is the sentence in which Saint Paul, in the letter to the Colossians, writes that he completed in his flesh "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Col 1, 24). This, specifies the Apostolic Administrator of Harbin - "does not mean that the suffering of Christ for the salvation of the world is not sufficient, but that the mystery of the redemption accomplished by the most holy Body of Christ continues to act in us. This is why we can face with joy "everything that happens in our life" since "everything works for the good of those who love God".
Moreover, Father Zhao's letter continues, quoting a verse from Matthew's Gospel, "God prefers mercy to sacrifice" (Mt 9:13). And whoever tastes his mercy "can enter into communion with him and enjoy his divine life". The experience of the Lord's mercy risks the danger of "living a cosmetic religiosity", and allows us to practice "the new commandments of Jesus", as a reflection of his charity at work in us. The faith of the apostles, emphasizes Father Zhao "is as simple as receiving life from God's love and giving it to others".
The letter from the Apostolic Administrator of Harbin also quotes a passage from Pope Francis' message for the World Day of Peace 2023, applying it to the local situation: "Certainly, after touching with our own hands the fragility that characterizes human reality and our personal existence, we can say that the greatest lesson left to us by Covid-19 is the awareness that we all need each other, that our greatest treasure, even if it is also the most fragile , is human brotherhood, founded on our common divine filiation, and that no one can be saved alone. Father Joseph Zhao invites the brothers and sisters of the local Catholic community to enter the new year, still marked by the tribulations due to the pandemic, keeping preciously the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be given to you in addition. So don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will already have its anxieties. Each day has its own pain" (Mt 6, 33-34). (NZ) (Agenzia Fides, 26/1/2023)