As an ESL teacher, I have frequent opportunities to work with priests and religious from other countries. Recently, there has been a spate of religious sisters and priests arriving from various parts of China. Most of them come to the United States in order to obtain Master’s Degrees in history, theology, or any other field that would prove useful to them back home in China.
For a long time, I wondered if they had been brought to the United States by the Cardinal Kung Foundation (a network that supports the underground Chinese Catholic Church) or the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Organization (a group loyal to the Communist Party and not recognized by the Vatican). I found out that most belonged to the latter group.
As with everything else in Communist countries, the position of religious bodies has always been extremely difficult. In Russia, for example, two different Orthodox Churches existed at the same time: the Moscow Patriarchate (the official Russian Orthodox Church) and numerous underground groups that have since come into the open.
The underground Church in Russia was formed by believers, who did not recognize the reforms of Metropolitan (later Patriarch) Sergius and his collaboration with the government. Therefore, they spent most of their lives and lived their faith underground, whiel the Patriarchate continued on its merry way. The truth of the matter is that the Moscow Patriarchate did not choose to collaborate with the Communist regime. Rather, it was faced with an extremely difficult choice. Either to continue resisting the Communists or to acquiesce and gain some freedom. Russian American journalist Serge Schmemann put the question even more succinctly in his book, Echoes of a Native Land: “If you were a Russian Orthodox bishop which would you choose, signing a decree of loyalty to the state or having one thousand priests executed in the Gulag?”
The question put before believers in China is similar: “Swear fealty to the Communist party and the CCPA or face martyrdom in the underground Church.” Countless Chinese Catholics have chosen the latter course rather than swear fealty to a party that has essentially made the Church a puppet in their hands. Countless hundreds and thousands have been martyred for their faith. Many have been tortured in prison and others are still languishing in labor camps. As St. Paul wrote so eloquently to the Hebrews, these Chinese martyrs are part of a cloud of witnesses that grows greater and greater by the day. Few people realize how dire the situation in China really is for believers that choose not to attend CCPA services.
The most difficult thing, of course, is trying to find some solution to this problem. It seems to me that the one thing standing in the way of reconciliation is the Communist government. Without it, the CCPA will no longer have a rationale for existing. Rather, the end of the Communist Party would mean that negotiations would take place between those that are on both sides of the fence.
After the collapse of Communism in Russia, something similar happened. The Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR) began negotiations with the Moscow Patriarchate for full unity. These negotiations were fraught with tension, but Full Communion was achieved between the Churches in May, 2007 with a solemn service at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Since then, the ROCOR has become incorporated into the larger structure of the Patriarchate and the schism no longer exists.
Of course, any solution to the problem in the Church in China will have to be taken up by the Vatican. Past popes have made efforts toward easing tensions, but these tensions still continue. Underground believers are still blackmailed into not speaking out while the CCPA continues to be seen as the official face of Catholicism in China.
It is time for us to pray to Our Lady of China to a solution to this problem. In God’s time, the schism will be healed. Yet if we do not pray, it will not happen.
Our Lady of China, pray for us!
Holy Martyrs of China, pray for us!