In China, Church Grows Amid Repression

Interview With Father Bernardo Cervellera, Director of AsiaNews

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ROME, MARCH 22, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Although now freed, underground Bishop Wei Jingyi's recent arrest caused concern among the country's Catholics, says the director of AsiaNews agency.



In this interview, Father Bernardo Cervellera of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, analyzes the evolution of the Catholic Church in China.

Q: Is Bishop Wei Jing's arrest an isolated case or is it part of a larger strategy of repression and persecution of the underground Church in China?

Father Cervellera: It is not at all an isolated case. Months ago, the Chinese government launched a new campaign against the underground communities -- Catholic, Protestant and of other religions -- which refuse the suffocating control of the government. Not being registered at the Office of Religious Affairs, they are illegal and are often accused of "disturbing the public order."

In several regions of China -- Fujian, Zhejiang, Inner Mongolia, Henan -- there is an ongoing widespread search of individual underground Christians to compel them to join the Patriotic Association, the long arm of the government to control the Church, and whose objective is to create a church that is independent of obedience to the Pope.

Those who do not join this association are imprisoned and their places of worship are dismantled and destroyed.

Q: What is the situation of Catholics in China? How are relations evolving between the Patriotic Association and the underground Church?

Father Cervellera: The Patriotic Association is constantly worse. In these last years, the government has chosen atheists as secretaries, who control the Church according to their ideological and economic interests.

On the other hands, the official Church -- the Church recognized by the government -- is constantly better: Underground and official Christians, together with bishops and priests, collaborate increasingly.

In the official Church, at least 80% of the bishops are in secret communion with the Pope. Because of this, they are also persecuted and kept under control.

Q: In the book "Chinese Mission: Journey in the Empire Between Market and Repression" (Ancora, 2003) you wrote that you do not have faith in China's economic growth because it is taking place to the detriment of people's rights and it does not alter the repressive policies of the Beijing government. Could you illustrate your point of view in this regard?

Father Cervellera: A society with great economic development, at least in the cities, which does not respect human rights and religious freedom, in the end does not even respect economic freedom.

The cases of corruption, violence and unpaid salaries of workers indicate that the Chinese economy is also sick. It is not only a question of lack of respect for religious rights.

Q: What are the prospects for Catholics in China?

Father Cervellera: Very good. Every year there are at least 150,000 baptisms of adults, [and] many more among Protestants.

The people are dissatisfied with the capitalist wave, and disillusioned with Marxism. The poor seek consolation; the martyrs inspire enthusiasm. All this leads to the search for stable values and the profound meaning of life.

Moreover, among those who adhere to the faith there are young people, intellectuals and professionals -- people who can influence society. A Chinese bishop said to me not long ago: "This is a rich period for evangelization."