Maria Holland

Obama and the Pope Talk To China

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2009 at 12:11 am

I usually try to schedule my adventuring, especially culinary, a certain time after waking.  I’ll eat pretty much anything – just after noon.  This morning, however, I got started early.  I met two friends at 7 for breakfast in the cafeteria – the first time for all of us.  I had some scrambled eggs (cold), potatoes (freaking delicious), baozi (quite good), 油条 (literally, “oil sticks” – kind of like unsweetened straight donuts?), some sweet cake (nice and dense), and a yogurt drink.  It was not bad!

This evening, a Chinese friend 请我吃饭 (invited me out to dinner) for the first time.  This was the friend whose personal statement I revised, so this was her way of saying thank you.  We ate a Korean restaurant and I got the chance to talk to her and her boyfriend.  The most surprising revelation of the night was when I told her I go to school in Oklahoma.  First, she said that she knew of a city named Tulsa (from a Friends episode apparently?) and then she said she also knew there was a song with the same name.  This is exactly two more facts than any other Chinese person I’ve met (three, if you count the fact that she knew it was a state), so I was quite impressed.

I went dancing this evening.  I had a wonderful time, but the evening didn’t really end well.  Karolina, Lester, and I were hanging out talking to one of the women afterwards, and I noticed that Smelly Man was hanging around – not talking, just watching us.  Smelly Man is perhaps my least favorite person in China; In addition to having no sense of rhythm when dancing, he smells like an old cigarette, which is how he got the name.  I purposefully waited for Karolina so we could walk back together, and we went a different direction when we saw that he was walking ahead of us along our usual route.  Later, those paths intersected and we again went another way, going into a supermarket to do some shopping.  After about 20 minutes of shopping, I figured he had left . . . Then, Karolina and I were parting ways – me headed the 20 yards to my dorm and her the several-minute walk along poorly-lit streets – and I saw him again, just yards ahead of her.  I called out to her and asked her to come with me because I had something to show her; she was confused but she came.  When I told her I had seen him, she was really thankful, though!  We looked over at him together and he saw us looking, but I don’t care.  I’m not sure that really feared physical danger, but it was absolutely, definitely 奇怪 – strange.

I know I can buy brass knuckles at the mall, but I’d settle for some mace.


Anyway, on a much lighter note: President Obama just finished up his first trip to China, and I’ve been reading some articles about it.  It sounds like a lot of the trip was the usual canned Chinese stuff, but I found this bit on the Shanghai “town hall” forum interesting and even moving:

At the Shanghai forum, Mr. Obama was asked only one question — “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” — that delved into an area the Chinese government considers controversial.

His cautious answer stood out as a sign that he hopes to reach China’s youth without offending its increasingly influential leaders. He delivered an oblique critique of China’s rigid controls and restrictions on the Internet and free speech without mentioning that China practices online censorship as a matter of policy.

“I have a lot of critics in the United States who can say all kinds of things about me,” he said. But, he added, “I actually think that that makes our democracy stronger, and it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear.”

That snippet, at least initially, captured the attention of Chinese netizens. It was a topic of discussion on Web sites for a couple of hours after Mr. Obama spoke, before being deleted or removed from prominent positions. According to several Web snapshots in the hours after the meeting, “What’s Twitter?” and “Obama Shanghai” shot up to the list of Top 10 Chinese Google searches.

“I will not forget this morning,” one Chinese Twitter user posted on the Web site China Digital Times. “I heard, on my shaky Internet connection, a question about our own freedom which only a foreign leader can discuss.”

Another article I read today was about a newly-released letter from the Vatican’s Secretary of State to the Church in China.  I read the full text of the letter, and really appreciated it.  Right now I feel like I am definitely a part of the Church in China and the words really resonated with my experiences here, especially concerning the Eucharist as the source of communion with the Church throughout the world:

The Eucharist, sacrament of communion, source and summit of ecclesial life and evangelisation, is at the centre of your journey of reconciliation. The Eucharist, even if celebrated in a particular community, is never the celebration of that community alone. A truly Eucharistic community cannot retreat into itself, as though it were self-sufficient, but it must stay in communion with every other catholic community. In fact, every celebration of the Eucharist presupposes the union not only with the local Bishop but also with the Pope, the order of Bishops, all the clergy and the entire People of God.

The article referenced several times the letter that Pope Benedict wrote to the Church in China two years ago.  I remember reading it before my second trip to China, but I decided to go back and take another look.  Again, I interpreted it very differently because I identify so much more with the people to whom the letter was addressed.

One of the most interesting things for me was the establishment of May 24th as an international day of prayer for the Church in China.  I remembered the date (as it happened to coincide with my first day in China last summer), but not the reason.  Apparently that day is the “memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.”  The name Sheshan sounded familiar and sure enough, it is the pilgrimage site that I will be going to in Shanghai when I go with my church next month.  A little looking on Wikipedia told me more: it is, among other things, the largest Christian church building in East Asia, and the only active pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics in China.  Sweet!

Anyway, if you would like to read the entire letter, I would encourage you to do so.  It is kind of long, though, so I’ve selected some of my favorite parts – just click below (the Comment and Read More button).


1. Dear Brother Bishops, dear priests, consecrated persons and all the faithful of the Catholic Church in China: “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven … We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Col 1:3-5, 9-11).

These words of the Apostle Paul are highly appropriate for expressing the sentiments that I, as the Successor of Peter and universal Pastor of the Church, feel towards you. You know well how much you are present in my heart and in my daily prayer and how deep is the relationship of communion that unites us spiritually.

Purpose of the Letter

2. I wish, therefore, to convey to all of you the expression of my fraternal closeness. With intense joy I acknowledge your faithfulness to Christ the Lord and to the Church, a faithfulness that you have manifested “sometimes at the price of grave sufferings”[], since “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Phil 1:29). Nevertheless, some important aspects of the ecclesial life of your country give cause for concern.

Without claiming to deal with every detail of the complex matters well known to you, I wish through this letter to offer some guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of evangelization in China, in order to help you discover what the Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, “the key, the centre and the purpose of the whole of human history” [] wants from you.


. . .


5. Beloved Catholic Church in China, you are a small flock present and active within the vastness of an immense People journeying through history. How stirring and encouraging these words of Jesus are for you: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk12:32)! “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world”: therefore “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:13, 14, 16).

In the Catholic Church which is in China, the universal Church is present, the Church of Christ, which in the Creed we acknowledge to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, that is to say, the universal community of the Lord’s disciples.

As you know, the profound unity which binds together the particular Churches found in China, and which likewise places them in intimate communion with all the other particular Churches throughout the world, has its roots not only in the same faith and in a common Baptism, but above all in the Eucharist and in the episcopate []. . . It is therefore indispensable, for the unity of the Church in individual nations, that every Bishop should be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the Pope.

No one in the Church is a foreigner, but all are citizens of the same People, members of the same Mystical Body of Christ. The bond of sacramental communion is the Eucharist, guaranteed by the ministry of Bishops and priests [].


. . .


Given this difficult situation, not a few members of the Catholic community are asking whether recognition from the civil authorities – necessary in order to function publicly – somehow compromises communion with the universal Church. I am fully aware that this problem causes painful disquiet in the hearts of Pastors and faithful. In this regard I maintain, in the first place, that the requisite and courageous safeguarding of the deposit of faith and of sacramental and hierarchical communion is not of itself opposed to dialogue with the authorities concerning those aspects of the life of the ecclesial community that fall within the civil sphere. There would not be any particular difficulties with acceptance of the recognition granted by civil authorities on condition that this does not entail the denial of unrenounceable principles of faith and of ecclesiastical communion. In not a few particular instances, however, indeed almost always, in the process of recognition the intervention of certain bodies obliges the people involved to adopt attitudes, make gestures and undertake commitments that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics. I understand, therefore, how in such varied conditions and circumstances it is difficult to determine the correct choice to be made. For this reason the Holy See, after restating the principles, leaves the decision to the individual Bishop who, having consulted his presbyterate, is better able to know the local situation, to weigh the concrete possibilities of choice and to evaluate the possible consequences within the diocesan community. It could be that the final decision does not obtain the consensus of all the priests and faithful. I express the hope, however, that it will be accepted, albeit with suffering, and that the unity of the diocesan community with its own Pastor will be maintained.

It would be good, finally, if Bishops and priests, with truly pastoral hearts, were to take every possible step to avoid giving rise to situations of scandal, seizing opportunities to form the consciences of the faithful, with particular attention to the weakest: all this should be lived out in communion and in fraternal understanding, avoiding judgements and mutual condemnations. In this case too, it must be kept in mind, especially where there is little room for freedom, that in order to evaluate the morality of an act it is necessary to devote particular care to establishing the real intentions of the person concerned, in addition to the objective shortcoming. Every case, then, will have to be pondered individually, taking account of the circumstances.


. . .


Currently, all the Bishops of the Catholic Church in China are sons of the Chinese People. Notwithstanding many grave difficulties, the Catholic Church in China, by a particular grace of the Holy Spirit, has never been deprived of the ministry of legitimate Pastors who have preserved the apostolic succession intact. We must thank the Lord for this constant presence, not without suffering, of Bishops who have received episcopal ordination in conformity with Catholic tradition, that is to say, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and at the hands of validly and legitimately ordained Bishops in observance of the rite of the Catholic Church.

Some of them, not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration. The clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church’s life, and history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the Church’s life. For this reason the Holy See hopes that these legitimate Pastors may be recognized as such by governmental authorities for civil effects too – insofar as these are necessary – and that all the faithful may be able to express their faith freely in the social context in which they live.

Other Pastors, however, under the pressure of particular circumstances, have consented to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate. The Pope, considering the sincerity of their sentiments and the complexity of the situation, and taking into account the opinion of neighbouring Bishops, by virtue of his proper responsibility as universal Pastor of the Church, has granted them the full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction. This initiative of the Pope resulted from knowledge of the particular circumstances of their ordination and from his profound pastoral concern to favour the reestablishment of full communion. Unfortunately, in most cases, priests and the faithful have not been adequately informed that their Bishop has been legitimized, and this has given rise to a number of grave problems of conscience. What is more, some legitimized Bishops have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been legitimized. For this reason it is indispensable, for the spiritual good of the diocesan communities concerned, that legitimation, once it has occurred, is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity, and that the legitimized Bishops provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter.


. . .


In not a few situations, then, you have faced the problem of concelebration of the Eucharist. In this regard, I remind you that this presupposes, as conditions, profession of the same faith and hierarchical communion with the Pope and with the universal Church. Therefore it is licit to concelebrate with Bishops and with priests who are in communion with the Pope, even if they are recognized by the civil authorities and maintain a relationship with entities desired by the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church, provided . . . that this recognition and this relationship do not entail the denial of unrenounceable principles of the faith and of ecclesiastical communion.

The lay faithful too, who are animated by a sincere love for Christ and for the Church, must not hesitate to participate in the Eucharist celebrated by Bishops and by priests who are in full communion with the Successor of Peter and are recognized by the civil authorities. The same applies for all the other sacraments.

Concerning Bishops whose consecrations took place without the pontifical mandate yet respecting the Catholic rite of episcopal ordination, the resulting problems must always be resolved in the light of the principles of Catholic doctrine. Their ordination . . .  is illegitimate but valid, just as priestly ordinations conferred by them are valid, and sacraments administered by such Bishops and priests are likewise valid. Therefore the faithful, taking this into account, where the eucharistic celebration and the other sacraments are concerned, must, within the limits of the possible, seek Bishops and priests who are in communion with the Pope: nevertheless, where this cannot be achieved without grave inconvenience, they may, for the sake of their spiritual good, turn also to those who are not in communion with the Pope.


. . .



13. I would now like to address a special reflection and an invitation to priests – especially those ordained in recent years – who have undertaken the path of the pastoral ministry with such generosity. It seems to me that the current ecclesial and socio-political situation renders ever more urgent the need to draw light and strength from the well-springs of priestly spirituality, which are God’s love, the unconditional following of Christ, passion for proclamation of the Gospel, faithfulness to the Church and generous service of neighbour []. How can I fail to recall, in this regard, as an encouragement for all, the shining examples of Bishops and priests who, in the difficult years of the recent past, have testified to an unfailing love for the Church, even by the gift of their own lives for her and for Christ?

My dear priests! You who bear “the burden of the day and the scorching heat” (Mt 20:12), who have put your hand to the plough and do not look back (cf. Lk 9:62): think of those places where the faithful are waiting anxiously for a priest and where for many years, feeling the lack of a priest, they have not ceased to pray for one to arrive. I know that among you there are confrères who have had to deal with difficult times and situations, adopting positions that cannot always be condoned from an ecclesial point of view and who, despite everything, want to return to full communion with the Church. In the spirit of that profound reconciliation to which my venerable predecessor repeatedly invited the Church in China [], I turn now to the Bishops who are in communion with the Successor of Peter, so that with a paternal spirit they may evaluate these questions case by case and give a just response to that desire, having recourse – if necessary – to the Apostolic See.


. . .


19. Dear Pastors and all the faithful, the date 24 May could in the future become an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China. This day is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.

I would like that date to be kept by you as a day of prayer for the Church in China. I encourage you to celebrate it by renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever deeper and more visible. I remind you, moreover, of the commandment that Jesus gave us, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, as well as the invitation of the Apostle Saint Paul: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:1-4).

On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world – in particular those who are of Chinese origin – will demonstrate their fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at times everything can seem a failure.


20. At the conclusion of this Letter I pray that you, dear Pastors of the Catholic Church which is in China, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful, may “rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:6-7).

May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Queen of China, who at the hour of the Cross patiently awaited the morning of the Resurrection in the silence of hope, accompany you with maternal solicitude and intercede for all of you, together with Saint Joseph and the countless Holy Martyrs of China.

I assure you of my constant prayers and, with affectionate remembrance of the elderly, the sick, the children and young people of your noble Nation, I bless you from my heart.

  1. thanks for this Maria…. What an incredible reminder of how blessed we are with our religious freedom and that such persecution does exist and is painful to so many! I will put May 24 on my calendar but attempt to remember Chinese Catholics regularly in my prayers………….. Love ya, Aunt Mary
    PS Keep alert for Smelly Man (seriously!)

  2. I skimmed the letter already thinking of you. I do still feel connected to you, not just by reading your blog, but through Mass and the Eucharist. A mom was asking me about why we call the Church universal and I even used you as an example – that we’re attending the same Mass with the same readings even though you’re in China.

    • Exactly! I didn’t know you were reading this, but I agree – we’re still connected through the Mass.

  3. Interesting. I re-read this today, more carefully this time, and can really sense the Pope’s kinship with the moral and religous struggles he knows Catholics in China (including you)are dealing with. I hope the papal allowances he refers to have eased your mind about what church(es) you should or should not be visiting.

    I can say that I don’t know that I ever considered praying for the Church in China before today, but I will now. And I’m praying for you too!

  4. Thanks, Dad! Yes, I definitely found the letter comforting. If the Pope understands, then God surely does!

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