MANY THANKS to Mrs O'Neill for her kind and balanced comment on the China
Church situation. Several years ago, the Holy Father sent a
personal letter to every Bishop in the Church asking special prayers for the Church in mainland China. Has this exhortation ever been followed up? Prayer is certainly the priority form of help.
It is true that we should welcome in a positive way any improvement in the situation of
believers in the mainland and should see in this, a sign of hope
for the future, but this, not because of an apparently more open government policy but because it happens to be God not any political leader, who is the Master of History.
We should feel hope that God will use the present government policy for His own purposes to restore freedom of belief and practice to our brethren in China.
The religious situation in China is not in fact the expression of a religious theological problem but of a political one. It is not fear of Papal authority or the "Roman Catholic hierarchy" that explains the "patriotic" associations, but the fact that China is a communist state with an atheistic totalitarian ideology.
It is not problems of authority, that prevent the laity, priests and bishops from re-establishing ties with Rome, but the fact that they are not allowed to do so.
A Chinese Communist Party Politburo member Xi Zhangxun told a January meeting of Religious Affairs Bureau directors in Beijing that the present liberalising of its religious policy had "as its first and last aim", the uniting of all the people behind its modernisation programme. There is not government belief in or policy of freedom of religion as such.
I was speaking recently to a Catholic from one of the big commercial centres in the mainland, allowed out on a brief visit to his relatives. I asked him what he thought of the present open religious policy and he answered: "The present policy is one of greater openness but the Communists have a principle "When there is greater openness .outwardly, there must be a tighter grip inwardly".
"In fact it is only an appearance of openness. We are being used as a shop-window for the world. But if they are using us, we can also use them.
"Although I myself do not go to 'the Patriotic services, it is better that the churches are being re-opened, Masses celebrated and the Sacraments available. This makes us feel better."
The fact that this openness is geared to the government's modernisation programme and not a genuine expression of religious freedom only emphasises the importance of the Holy Father's request of all the Bishops of the world to pray and ask prayer for the faithful Church in mainland China.
Miss M J O'Farrell Macau