ROME, Italy, May 26, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Last Sunday, Pope Francis once again called Chinese Catholics to be “good citizens.” On the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan, patroness of China, the Holy Father briefly talked about the Asian country following his weekly Regina Caeli prayer.
“We entrust to the guidance and protection of our Heavenly Mother the pastors and faithful of the Catholic Church in that great country,” Pope Francis said, “so that they may be strong in faith and firm in fraternal union, joyful witnesses and promoters of charity and fraternal hope, and good citizens.”
The pope did not mention the 2018 accord between the Vatican and China, the details of which are not public. Since the 1950s, the Vatican had supported the underground Church, which is still being persecuted by the Chinese government today. The Vatican-China deal seemingly legitimized the Communist-organized Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), despite its allegiance to the pro-abortion, pro-contraception Chinese government over the Church.
“Dear Catholic brothers and sisters in China, I wish to assure you that the universal Church, of which you are an integral part, shares your hopes and supports you in the trials of life,” the Holy Father said on Sunday.
The Church “accompanies you with prayer for a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the light and beauty of the Gospel, God’s power for the salvation of all who believe, may shine in you. In expressing to all of you once again my great and sincere affection, I impart to you a special Apostolic Blessing. May Our Lady always guard you!”
Last March, in a video presenting his monthly prayer intentions, Pope Francis had already encouraged Chinese Catholics to be “good citizens” while telling them not to engage in “proselytism.”
“The Church wants Chinese Christians to be truly Christians, and to be good citizens,” Pope Francis said. “They should promote the Gospel, but without engaging in proselytism, and they need to achieve the unity of the divided Catholic community,” he said, likely referring to the distinction between an official state-sanctioned organization calling itself a church and the underground Church.
The pope claimed that the Church in China “looks to the future with hope.” The remarks of the Holy Father came as part of a video presenting his prayer intentions for the month of March.
He concluded the brief video by asking for prayer “that the Church in China may persevere in its faithfulness to the Gospel and grow in unity.”
Catholics and other Christians are still persecuted by communist China.
An official report by the United States government pointed out that in 2019, the Chinese government under President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping have “doubled down on the ‘sinicization’ of religion — a campaign that aims to bring religion in China under closer official control and in line with officially sanctioned interpretations of Chinese culture.”
The report found that the rise in persecution of Catholics corresponded to the signing of the secret deal with the Vatican.
“In September 2018, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs signed an agreement with the Holy See, paving the way for the unification of state-sanctioned and underground Catholic communities. Subsequently, local Chinese authorities subjected Catholic believers in China to increased persecution by demolishing churches, removing crosses, and continuing to detain underground clergy. The Party-led Catholic national religious organizations also published a plan to ‘sinicize’ Catholicism in China.”
Recognized China expert Steven Mosher said the government is attempting to make the Bible a book that fits within the communist government’s agenda.
“So far, it is (1) no longer possible to buy a copy of the Bible online [in China], (2) existing copies of the Bible are being confiscated whenever the authorities come across them, and (3) there are new versions of all sacred texts — Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc. — that reinforce Communist ideology in the making.”
Bob Fu, a Chinese Evangelical pastor, testified in 2018 that one of the ways China hopes to make Christianity more Chinese is to introduce a new translation of the Old Testament and write new commentaries on the New Testament.
“The plan made it clear that ‘Sinicization of Christianity’ means to change ‘Christianity in China’ into ‘Chinese Christianity,’” Fu said before a subcommittee of the House Committee of Foreign Affairs.
Bishop James Su Zhimin, who refused to join the state-run “church,” experienced persecution even more directly. He was arrested in 1996. In November 2003, his family discovered him by chance at a hospital, surrounded by government authorities.
According to the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, “[h]e has not been heard or seen from since, despite repeated international inquiries. In all, he has spent 40 years in prison, without charge, without trial. Before being arrested in 1996, Bishop Su Zhimin was held off and on for 26 years either in prison or forced labor camps.”
The human rights magazine Bitter Winter wrote that “believers were offered monetary rewards if they agreed to ask the priests’ relatives and friends to put pressure on them to join the CPCA.”
This took place in the Diocese of Mindong in the southeastern province of Fujian. Refusing to join the CPCA, those priests are exposed to “threats, coercion, and suppression.”
The local government in a part of the diocese had invited Catholics to a meeting, telling them that priests who refuse to join the state-sanctioned “church” — for instance, Bishop Guo Xijin, an auxiliary bishop in the diocese — need to be “transformed.”
“They promised that churches would function normally as long as the priests joined” the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Then Catholics were offered bribes to help with integrating priests of the underground Church into the state-sanctioned “church.”
“Moreover, the participants were asked to create compromising situations, for example, pretend to be giving money to priests or have women pose as if they are involved with them, and take photos, which would later be used to intimidate them,” Bitter Winter continued.
As a last step, priests who continue to resist “will be put under house arrest, and their power and water supply would be cut off. They will be pressured ‘until they break down, go insane, or even commit suicide.’”
As Bitter Winter reported, even Christian groups approved by the Chinese government are not safe from persecution. Numerous facilities of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a state-sanctioned Protestant community, were destroyed in recent months.
Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen has been the most prominent and outspoken critic of the secret deal between the Vatican and China.
As he had done before, Zen attacked Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as “not acting for the Faith.”
“I’m sorry to say, he is not a man of faith because he despises the heroes of faith,” Zen said about the cardinal, who is, to a large extent, responsible for the deal between the Vatican and China.
Commenting on the deal, Zen warned that communists “never accept compromise. They want full surrender. And so now we are at the bottom. They finished the operation selling the Church.”