VATICANO - Obispo Shen Bin: Arraigados en China, para abrir nuevos horizontes al anuncio del Evangelio

martes, 21 mayo 2024

photo Teresa Tseng Kuang Yi

Por Giuseppe Shen Bin, obispo de Shanghai

Ciudad del Vaticano (Agencia Fides) - A continuación, publicamos el texto íntegro en inglés del discurso pronunciado por Joseph Shen Bin, obispo de Shanghai, en el Congreso Internacional "100 años del Concilium Sinense: entre Historia y Presente", celebrada el 21 de mayo de 2024 en la Pontificia Universidad Urbaniana:

Honorable bishops, brothers and sisters in the Lord, academics and scholars,

As a bishop, I am very touched by the fact that today Prelates of the Church and academics belonging to the Church and not, who come from different parts of the world and speak different languages, are gathered here to commemorate the centenary of the Council of Shanghai, to remember the past and look to the future, to dialogue and discuss the mission that Jesus Christ has entrusted to us in our time. I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to the organizers of the conference for their invitation and careful preparation. I consider it very significant that this conference has as its theme the history and development of the Church in China. I believe and hope that, with the joint commitment of all of us, this conference will be successful.

In Jesus Christ, churches throughout the world are members of one another. You are in me, and I am in you. They illuminate and complement each other. The Bible says that we Christians have only one master, Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 23:10), so how can we listen to the voice of Christ, especially in this time so different from others?
A very important thing, in my opinion, is to learn and listen to others, the unheard voice of Christ, which is often transmitted to us by another, by a certain external language, as in the scene of Pentecost, to the birth of the Church.

In September 1922, Archbishop Celso Costantini (1876-1958) left Italy for China, where he arrived in November. His journey to China was long and difficult, as was the work of inculturation of the Church in China that he promoted after his arrival. Today we can travel from Beijing to Rome in a day, and we do not have to keep the Church's inculturation program a secret, as Archbishop Costantini did at the beginning. At this point, we have already overcome all obstacles to reach consensus. However, we must not forget that the starting point we have obtained today is closely linked to what Archbishop Costantini did with prophetic audacity and exceptional talent, by having to counter everyone's opinion in mission territories in China, so that the Gospel of Christ takes root in the land of China and is compatible with Chinese society and culture.

Indeed, given the circumstances, the challenge that Archbishop Costantini wished to promote was not easy. At that time, in the missionary territories of China, most foreign missionaries were accustomed to the protection offered to the Church by foreign powers, especially through the so-called “Patronage”, and the Church in China had benefited from many privileges following the “Unequal Treaties” signed between the Qing government and the Western powers. According to some, this may have brought many “concessions” to the development of the Church in China. In this situation, renouncing these privileges and these “concessions” meant for many people renouncing the visible importance of the Church in Chinese society. But it is precisely on this point that Archbishop Costantini opposes: according to him, a Catholicism which has long depended on foreign missionaries, on the protection of foreign powers, and which is described by the Chinese as a "foreign religion", will not go far in China, in a country which has a long and deep cultural tradition. Even if some temporary fruit had arrived, it could not be said that these fruits were consistent with the spirit of Christ, that they were fruits of the Gospel tree of life. Therefore, without Archbishop Costantini's firm confidence and determination to pursue the goal of inculturation of the Church, the Synod of Shanghai would not have been possible.

Let us briefly recall the history: after the Opium War of 1840, foreign powers intervened in China's political, economic, cultural and religious affairs in the name of Unequal Treaties.

At the same time, some missionaries had a strong sense of superiority for European culture and an increasingly evident colonial mentality; their missionary work in mission territories was often accompanied by an intention of cultural colonization; they monopolized the management of churches, discriminated against the native clergy and had deep-rooted prejudices against traditional Chinese culture and political and social reality. Gradually as the nationalist sentiment of the Chinese people increased, the conflict between the Church and the people intensified, and the people's hatred of the Catholic Church gradually worsened, with periodic clashes.

In this process, the Holy See became aware of the dangers linked to the Church's ties with Western powers and "Patronage", and strove to create a new evangelical horizon and to redefine the political and cultural relations of the Church with the countries or regions in which it was present. This desire is reflected in the document “On the indigenous clergy”, published by the Congregation De Propaganda Fide with the approval of Pope Gregory XVI in 1845, and in the apostolic letter "Maximum Illud", published by Benedict XV in 1919.

In 1922, the Holy See sent Archbishop Costantini as apostolic delegate to China. In the spirit of the apostolic letter “Maximum Illud”, he committed himself to promoting the inculturation of the Church in China. The Council of Bishops held in Shanghai in May 1924 paved the way for the consecration of six Chinese bishops in Rome two years later. I would like to tell you here that among these six bishops was Bishop Zhu Kaimin, from our diocese of Haimen, Jiangsu Province. We, in the diocese of Haimen, therefore benefited very early from the Council of Shanghai.

Due to the resistance that followed, the Council of Shanghai did not bring about immediate and radical changes in the Church of China. For example, when it comes to the formation and appointment of Chinese clergy, the numbers have remained low: at the time of the founding of the People's Republic of China, only 29 of 137 Chinese dioceses had Chinese bishops and only 3 of 20 archbishops were Chinese. The Catholic Church in China had not truly freed itself from foreign powers to become a work led by Chinese Christians and had not yet succeeded in shedding the label of "foreign religion".

Retracing history is helpful in looking to the future, in discerning the direction in which God's Holy Spirit is leading the Church in China in this new historical period. This is why I think that certain points deserve to be examined in depth.

I. The development of the Church in China must be faithful to the Gospel of Christ. The Catholic Church in China, as a particular Catholic Church, follows the traditional Catholic faith. Since the founding of the new China in 1949, the Church in China has always remained faithful to its Catholic faith, although it has made great efforts to constantly adapt to the new political system. The Chinese government's religious freedom policy has no interest in changing the Catholic faith, but only hopes that the Catholic clergy and faithful will defend the interests of the Chinese people and free themselves from the control of foreign powers. When the Catholic community established its patriotic organization, Zhou Enlai, then Prime Minister of the State Council, expressed his understanding of the need for Chinese Catholics to be in communion with Rome in spiritual matters. Xi Zhongxun, then General Secretary of the State Council, also said that the people's government was not opposed to Chinese Catholics having religious contacts with the Vatican, but that these were only allowed provided that they do not go against the interests of the Chinese people, that they do not violate China's sovereignty and that the Vatican modifies its policy of hostility towards China.

The 10th Conference of Catholic Delegates, held in 2022, adopted the “Statutes of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of China”. Article 4 of the Statutes states: “The purposes of this body are: to be founded on Sacred Scripture and Tradition, in the spirit that the Church is one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, and in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, to safeguard the treasure of the Faith and spread the Gospel and Catholicism, with the grace of the Holy Spirit"; and article 8 reads: “In faith and in commitment to evangelization, this community fulfills its pastoral mission according to the mandate of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostles and the authority conferred on them by the Holy Spirit, and maintains communion with the Successors of Peter, Prince of the Apostles, in the doctrines of the faith and the precepts of the Church".

II. The development of the Church in China must be seen from a Chinese perspective. When it comes to the relationship between church and state, religion and politics, we must return to what the Bible says: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's". Western missionaries came from far away to China and, by habit, intentionally or not, they followed the Western model of church-state relations to compare and measure church-state relations in China, which created a number of problems. Particularly after the Opium War, some missionaries had a strong sense of European cultural superiority and even intended to use the Christian religion to change Chinese society and culture, to which many Chinese inevitably opposed and even hated; at that time, a strong anti-Christian trend and even a social movement formed among many Chinese scholars and ordinary people. An abyss was created between the Church of God and Chinese society, which prevented the further spread of the Gospel of love among the Chinese people.

III. The development of the Church in China must be in line with today's China. Today, the Chinese people are carrying out the great rebirth of the Chinese nation in a comprehensive manner with Chinese-style modernization, and the Catholic Church in China must move in the same direction, following a path of Sinicization that is in line with today's Chinese society and culture. We call on Chinese priests and faithful to love their country and their Church and to closely link the development of the Church with the well-being of the people. Pope Francis has also often emphasized that being a good Christian is not only not incompatible with being a good citizen, but is an integral part of it. In this regard, a statement made by Archbishop Costantini during the Synod of Shanghai is still very significant today. He said: “Local Catholics must be members of God's family, a people of his Kingdom. However, this does not mean that he renounces his own country, but remains a people of that country". We often say that faith has no borders, but believers have their own homeland and their own culture.

IV. The development of the Church in China must be immersed in the excellent traditional Chinese culture, especially with regard to the commitments that the Council of Shanghai anticipated but could not implement, or which have been implemented but need to be continued, such as encouraging the Church in China to explore the use of traditional Chinese culture in expressing the Catholic faith; support the adoption of traditional Chinese styles in church architecture, art and music, and promote the Sinicization of church art; integrating elements of traditional Chinese culture into church liturgy, etc. These are the most important methods and tools for promoting the Sinicization of Catholicism today, and it is also the direction of our future commitments.

Looking to the future, the Chinese Catholic Church will continue to follow the teaching of the apostle Paul, who said: "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some", continuing the path of Sinicization of the Church started by missionaries like Matteo Ricci, and continuing the direction defined by the Synod of Shanghai regarding the construction of the indigenous Church. We will continue to build the Church in China as a holy and Catholic Church, in line with God's will, which accepts China's excellent traditional cultural heritage, and is well received in today's Chinese society.
Thank you!

(Agencia Fides, 21/5/2024)