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Sinicization… The Church In China Faces A New Prison

August 31, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By FR. BERNARDO CERVELLERA

(Editor’s Note: Fr. Cervellera is the editor of AsiaNews, a PIME missionary online publication.)

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ROME (AsiaNews) — The entire Church in China, official and underground, is about to enter a new, great prison through one magic word: Sinicization, assimilation to Chinese culture and society and above all submission to the party.
It will allow the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Patriotic Association (PA) to control not only people (bishops, priests, faithful), but also what they think and the fruit of their thinking: historical records and interpretations, theology, social doctrine, architecture, sacred art, and even liturgical books and liturgy. In short, this is a political colonization of the minds and consciences of Chinese Catholics.
By the end of August, all the dioceses of China must submit to the National Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Council of Bishops (BCCC) a five-year plan (2018-2022) on how they can implement the Sinicization. For this reason, the CCPA and the BCCC have drafted a national “Five-Year Plan,” which serves as a model and inspiration “to advance the Catholic Church’s accession to China toward the Sinicization.”
The name “Jesus Christ” is mentioned once only in the 15-page document; the word “Gospel” four times; but the term “Communist Party” is mentioned five times and the words “Patriotic Association” 15 times.
The English translation of this five-year national plan has been published by UCAN news agency; the text in Chinese came to AsiaNews from Joseph Cardinal Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.
The theme of Sinicization was launched by Xi Jinping as early as May 2015. After an analysis of the situation, in which the Chinese Communist Party feared a similar fate to that of the USSR, on May 20, 2015, in a meeting with the United Front, Xi decreed that religions must “Sinicize” if they want to stay in China. The same theme was reiterated at a national meeting on religious affairs in April 2016, and also turned up in the footnotes of the intervention on religions at the 19th NPCC Congress, in October 2017.
In all these interventions, Xi places Sinicization in a relational context with submission to the CCP, with independence from foreign religious powers or policies (including the Vatican), with the strengthening of “democracy” in religious decisions (divesting religious authorities of all power).
The National Five-Year Plan extends the field of Sinicization by enveloping not only physical control of the members of the Church, but by also including cultural, theological, and liturgical control.
In the original 15 pages of the document, divided into nine chapters, it addresses not only the subject of submission to the CCP (n. 2) and adherence to socialism with “Chinese characteristics,” but also the integration of Catholicism with Chinese culture (n. 4); the development of a theology with Chinese characteristics and the rereading of the history of the Church in China through the lens of Sinicization (n. 5); the exploration of liturgical expressions with Chinese elements (n. 6); and the learning how to Sinicize architectural works, paintings, and sacred music (n. 8).
All this must take place under the supervision of the PA and the BCCC, founding avant-garde theological academies, centers of historical study, institutes of Chinese Catholic culture, and liturgical centers — all subjected to the leaders of the PA and the BCCC, who exercise control and supervision to “correct,” “create consensus,” and “oppose those who oppose.”
At this point one may ask: Is such a Sinicization still Catholic?
Above and beyond the fact that the Catholic Church in China must “accept the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party” (nn. 2, 3): How could one escape the omnipotent and omniscient system of control and power? Moreover, what about the call to “implement the core values of socialism as well as to strengthen their own base to push forward with evangelization and pastoral work” (n. 2)?
What is the purpose of Benedict XVI’s question in his Letter to Chinese Catholics, in which he asked for the freedom to work in society by working “for justice” (Letter, n. 4)? What about this “forced Sinicization,” in which a vanguard creates models that others must apply, “opposing those who oppose”?
The document states: “views that styles of church structures, painting, and sacred music must be Westernized should be changed” (n. 8), but it is conceded that it is possible to construct structures in Chinese and Western style.
Yet, in recent months we have been witnessing iconoclasm by local governments in Henan, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang where churches and decorations are destroyed because they are “Western.”
The fear is that this momentum toward Sinicization is control over the theological, historical, social, and artistic works of Catholics.
It is evident that such control leads to partiality, as seen in the fact that several Catholic cultural centers have begun to study Catholic and Protestant personalities who condemned or opposed the Japanese colonization of China.
Unfortunately, nothing is heard about the lives of Catholics during the early period of Mao and during the Cultural Revolution with the persecution and murder of bishops, priests, and laity. Soon we will have history books duly sterilized and adapted to the wishes of the prince, according to the imperial Chinese tradition.
This document appears to be a political manifesto with very little religious or theological subject matter. And even if it constantly quotes both “PA and BCCC,” the power lies completely with the “PA.”

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