Cardinal Keith Michael Patrick O'Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, recently reflected on his trip to China in two essays.
The cardinal's trip lasted between October 19 and October 29. In that time met with bishops, priests, nuns, seminarians, lay Catholics and government officials in Xi'an, Beijing, and Shanghai. He prayed with local clergy and religious, leading Catholics in prayer at Shanghai's Sheshan Marian Shrine, dedicated to Our Lady Help of Christians.
He also visited the grave of Father Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit missionary to China who died in 1610.
While voicing his belief that spirituality has been part of the nature of the Chinese people, the cardinal also worried China's increasing secularization and prosperity had hampered its spiritual progress.
The cardinal remarked upon the progress of religious liberty, saying "although there are challenges still to be met, religious freedom has grown over the past years." He also noted as a possible positive development the October 21 closing session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which for the first time included the word "religion" in an amendment to the party constitution.
Cardinal O'Brien also spoke of the reception of Pope Benedict XVI's June 30 letter to Catholics in mainland China. "Many have accepted this letter joyfully, others have been hurt by certain phrases, but there is a desire which I have clearly seen that this letter be used as a major step on the way forward to building up the unity of the Catholic Church in China and its challenging work of evangelization, while recognizing the legitimate role of the civil authorities."
The underground Church, which is not recognized by the Chinese government, was also a topic of the cardinal's essays. Referring to Catholics oppressed for refusing to co-operate with the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Cardinal O’Brien expressed his "firm conviction" that the worldwide Church "has a great lesson to absorb from the experience of those suffering and faithful people."
But he also hoped the division between the two groups would be overcome. "I can only say that we all look forward to the day when all bishops will be in full communion with the Holy Father in their own Episcopal conference," Cardinal O'Brien wrote.