A rare breed: the World Youth Day pilgrim from communist China

Thomas Zeng, WYD pilgrim from China
Thomas Zeng, WYD pilgrim from China

.- Corrected Oct. 14, 2011 12:59 MDT. Changes number of Chinese pilgrims from zero to 60 and corrects name of Zeng's university.

The final Mass of World Youth Day was a sea of national flags. In the million-strong crowd, however, it was hard to find one particular flag – China. That’s until CNA bumped into Thomas Zeng.

“This week has been absolutely fascinating,” said the university student who’s traveled all the way from Shanghai to be at World Youth Day in Madrid. Thomas says he met with 60 other pilgrims from mainland China.

“It is wonderful that I can meet so many Catholics, more than one million. That could never happen in my country, but I believe with the grace of God that it will one day.”

Thomas is actually one of 8 to 12 million Chinese Catholics. About half of them, though, have ties to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a state agency founded in 1957.

Many bishops now belong to the Patriotic Association while maintaining communion with the Holy See, but the association's principles of independence and strong nationalism make this position difficult. The Patriotic Association has recently ordained several bishops without Vatican approval.

Thomas says it's “not difficult to be a Catholic in China.” But to be “a good Catholic,” he notes, might be a different matter: “If you want to proclaim (Catholicism), you will maybe be in trouble.” 

“I think after today I think I will be more brave to proclaim Jesus Christ to my friends, my classmates,” says the student of management science at his home city’s University of Shanghai for Science and Technology, adding that he will no longer “be so afraid.”

“People in the Middle East, they have a worse situation than us,” he observed. “So we must be brave. We need not bear with fear, because God is with us and we have a lot of opportunities – especially in Shangai, as it is a very open, international city.”

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