Synod Notebook: A plea for the church in China
by John L. Allen Jr. | Oct. 18, 2012
During a synod of bishops in which there’s been plenty of talk about Islam, there was a reminder today that the threats to religious freedom Catholics face today are hardly limited to Muslim-dominated regions.
Speaking to reporters at the midway point of the Oct. 7-28 synod on the “New Evangelization,” Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong described as “pitiful” policies of the Chinese government which forbid bishops from the mainland from attending synods, and said he looks forward to a day when “the church in China will enjoy the full freedom of religious liberty.”
Tong, 73, was named to Hong Kong in 2009 and made a cardinal in 2012. He’s generally known as softer and less pugnacious than his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen, but today he pulled few punches in describing the ways in which China’s officially Marxist and atheist government seeks to hem in the Catholic church.
Tong said that both in 1998 and in 2005, for synods on Asia and on the Eucharist, “legitimate” bishops in China, meaning those officially recognized by the Vatican, were denied permission to attend synods. On other occasions, he said, they were offered permission to go, but only on the condition that they travelled with “illegitimate” bishops, meaning prelates ordained in defiance of the pope.
That, Tong said, is something the church in China “cannot accept.”
He told reporters that if the Chinese government were to be more “open” to the church, “it would enhance China’s reputation in the whole world.”
“China is open for business, but it still restricts religious activity,” Tong said.
Tong called for “dialogue between Beijing and the Holy See” to address the ability of the church to operate freely in the country.
Tong’s comments were elicited by a question from a reporter about a letter sent to the synod by Bishop Luke Li Jing Feng, which was read aloud on Oct. 16. In it, the 90-year-old Chinese prelate wrote, “In churches outside of China, tepidness, unfaithfulness and secularism of the faithful have infected clergymen. In the Chinese church, lay people are more pious than the clergy.”
“I believe that our faith as Chinese Christians can console the pope, Feng wrote.
As Tong addressed reporters today, Catholics in China were continuing to press for information on the whereabouts of Bishop James Su Zhimin, among the country’s “underground” prelates who have refused to register with the Chinese government. He was arrested on Oct. 8, 1997, and has not been seen since, after spending 26 years in prison or forced labor camps.
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