Addressing an audience of more than 400 at the annual Westminster event organized by the British branch of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the Cardinal revealed how the state-controlled official Church is almost completely reconciled with Rome, despite the catalogue of abuses meted out by Beijing to China’s Catholics.
Chinese Catholics are more or less divided into two groups: those who adhere to the official, state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which officially rejects Vatican authority, and those who reject the government’s attempt to supersede Vatican authority and belong to the “underground” Church. The Vatican, along with Chinese members of the Roman Catholic Church have been working to bring members of the officially approved Church back into full communion with Rome.
Cardinal Zen said that with about 85% of the official Church’s bishops now approved by Rome, Catholics’ endurance and peaceful resolve to achieve full communion with Rome had prevailed, said the Cardinal.
“The bishops (of the official Church) will not accept ordination without the approval of the Holy See. The government can do nothing about that,” said Cardinal Zen. And when Rome appoints a bishop, the official Church usually goes through the administrative ritual of officially electing the bishop, so that the government can not disapprove, he explained.
Even the recent ordination of two bishops without the approval of Rome would not stop a desire for dialogue, said the Cardinal, since the bishops in question had subsequently sought the forgiveness of Pope Benedict.
Cardinal Zen went on to stress how the Church is united by the oppression it suffers, and that in some ways the situation has worsened recently. “In China, there is persecution – not only of the so-called underground Church but also of the official Church,” said the Cardinal. “If we consider the whole world today, such persecution is unbelievable. Yes, we see that there are many churches open for worship, that the seminaries are full. But what we cannot see is the control exerted by the government,” he added.
The Cardinal called for the authorities to relax their tight grip on the Church: “If the government understood the role of the Church they would realise they have nothing to fear. They need to know religion can contribute to the education, economic development and progress in China,” he said.
Cardinal Zen thanked in person the benefactors of ACN: “You are encouraging the Chinese people to be faithful. But they help us to be faithful too. When we consider our suffering brothers and sisters we should be very grateful – for how much have we had to suffer for our faith?”
In addition to previously published words on the tremendous persecution that exists for Christians in China, Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun also noted the progress that is being made in reconciling China’s two Catholic Churches and hailed the patience and determination of long-suffering Chinese faithful, in a speech he made to an Aid to the Church in Need charity event in London, last weekend.