MACAU, CHINA – A Church observer and members of the clergy say the latest statement from the Vatican’s Commission for the Catholic Church in China was encouraging but there are practical problems that need to be solved.
According to Sr Beatrice Leung Kit-fun, a Macau-based political professor, the Vatican has taken the correct approach in consolidating the China Church by focusing on laity formation.
“While relations with the Chinese government are tense, the Vatican would be wise settling internal problems within the Church first,” she said on May 4.
The commission discussed laity formation for the first time since it was established in 2007.
“Many laypeople now demand more formation. This is a sign of healthy development and maturity from the Church,” she said.
Given their easy access to the mainland, Catholics from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau can play a greater role in training their fellow Chinese, the Precious Blood nun suggested.
Unlike communiques in the past, this year’s does not refer to the Chinese government. Sr Leung agreed it is “not a good time for dialogue” as Beijing is in the midst of a leadership transition scheduled for this autumn.
Fr Peter, a priest from central China who declined to reveal his full name, said he thought the communique was “very good” in general, not just on laity formation, but also on evangelisation, the role of bishops and priestly vocations.
However, the young priest said he was not optimistic about the future of the China Church. “We have done a lot but yielded little,” he said, referring to what he said was the low number of baptisms over Easter across China.
A survey conducted by the Study Centre of Faith in Hebei province counted 22,104 baptisms – a drop in the ocean compared to the country’s population of 1.3 billion, the priest said.
“The Church has invested much in hardware, but how much has it spent on evangelisation?” he asked. The communique has given concrete guidelines on laity formation, “but a key problem is how to put this into practice in dioceses and parishes”, he said.
Parishioners help in evangelistic work mostly on a voluntary basis, he noted, and heavy family pressures restrict their ability to do this. The Church should thus resort to full-time paid catechists, he suggested.
A bishop, who requested anonymity, said the communique has given “earnest expectation and sincere encouragement” to Chinese Catholics. They are hoping they will grow in charity, be nourished in the faith, enhance their sense of belonging and spirituality, and live out a “loving life by loving the family and loving our country”, he said.
“It is a reminder to us not only to uphold principles but also to pay attention to the spirit and essence of evangelisation, ensuring the China Church can bear witness for Jesus Christ in communion with the universal Church,” he said.