A Chinese Bishop's Look at the Olympics
"I Felt Embarrassed That Our Government Bypassed Cardinal Zen"
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With mixed feelings, I have accepted an invitation from the government of China to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Beijing on August 8, 2008.
Personally, I enjoy sports, not just as a spectator but also as a player. Although I am no longer a young man, I still play basketball occasionally. My performance was never great, and now I run more slowly, yet a basketball game is fun, good physical training and a chance to socialize. Exercise is good for both the body and the mind, "mens sana in corpore sano." I could not deal with the pressure and anxiety of my work without daily prayer. I likewise feel that physical activity is good for all of us.
I have always appreciated the Olympics. This year, I feel proud that my country is the host nation. I feel honored that our government has invited me to participate in the opening ceremony.
"Yet none of us lives as his own master" (Rom. 14:7). As soon as I received the invitation, I realized that I had to consult my superiors. The Holy See had no objections, and Cardinal Joseph Zen encouraged me to go, so I agreed to accept. When a Chinese orchestra performed at the Vatican a few months ago, Pope Benedict XVI expressed his wish that the Olympics in China would be a great success. I am glad to go to Beijing and witness some of that success in person.
However, while the leaders of all six major religions in Hong Kong were invited to Beijing, only in the case of the Catholic Church was the top dignitary not invited. I felt embarrassed that our government bypassed Cardinal Zen to invite me instead. As I do occasionally, I met some friends who work in the Chinese government over a meal. I mentioned that the cardinal had not been invited. They commented, "We hope you can understand." I replied "I do not understand," but they were silent. Maybe they did not want to provide any details or to say anything critical of their superiors. It is good for China to be open-minded and to invite all the religious leaders to enjoy the fun of the Olympic Games.
And yet a number of Catholic leaders are still in prison or under house arrest. Just to name a few prominent cases, Bishop Shi En'xiang has been missing for a decade. Bishop Liu Guangdong is under strict surveillance, and Bishop Su Zhemin has been detained for about ten years. We had no news of Bishop Yao Liang for a long time after his arrest on March 31, 2005. Now we know he is under house arrest, as is Bishop Julius Jia. Bishop Fan Zhongliang and Bishop Li Side are restricted in their mobility. Even when they are not confined to one house, many underground priests still cannot leave their home villages. Others are picked up and released, picked up and released, disrupting their ministry. These men have suffered and still suffer for our Catholic faith and for loyalty to the Holy Father.
Air pollution is an issue for the Olympics. The government has shut down all heavy industry within an enormous area for three months. Factories within 200 kilometers of downtown Beijing have been requested to close. Only a little production can relocate to more distant places on short notice. Severe restrictions on cars and trucks in Beijing are another drastic measure to ensure clean air. These inconvenient and costly steps tell the whole world that clean air for the Games is essential. I wish they would also realize the importance of greater religious and social freedom.
On a positive note, I am happy to see signs of openness. After the huge earthquake in Sichuan on May 12, the government became more transparent and allowed journalists, even foreigners, freedom to enter the disaster area and report what they saw and heard. The whole country rallied as one big family to help the victims, in complete contrast to Myanmar after a cyclone hit that country.
The five rings of the Olympic logo are recognized worldwide. I wish that China gave equal prominence to the five interconnected aspects of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, justice and peace.
For a recent, sad example, consider the Day of Prayer for China on May 24. Many Catholics wanted to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan outside of Shanghai. The police restricted access to the shrine and limited the number of visitors. Before May 24, some underground priests in Hebei Province were arrested; others were detained a few days before and put on a tour of scenic sites in their area, to make sure they could not lead pilgrims to Sheshan; some were even put in jail. The authorities still do not trust Chinese Catholics and feel threatened when we exercise our faith.
What is the final goal of the Olympics? There is more to success than medals and new world records. The Olympics display China's material progress. We Christians place more stress on spiritual development. With St. Paul, we like to compare our spiritual journey to racing to "win the prize which God has prepared for us in Jesus Christ" (Phil. 3:13-14). Our Lord loved his native country, Israel, the whole human race, and also his Heavenly Father. Thus there is no conflict for us to move from one circle of love to an even more beautiful and greater love. It is no sin for Christians to have mixed feelings, but we also need to feel faith, hope and love.
Despite all the advertising and over-publicity, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will lead all who run in this race to a happy outcome.