Maria Holland

Mother of China and of All Asia, Pray for Us

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 10:37 am

May 24th, 2007: My first day in China

May 24th, 2007: The first International Day of Prayer for the Church in China

From a short assessment trip to China three years ago, to what occasionally seems to be a year-long crash course on Catholicism in China, it’s been an interesting path.  At that time, I can’t say I was really aware that the Church was in China; now I find myself a daily witness to its existence.

The other night at DongFang, I met a friend of some friends of my friends, and ended up telling him a little about my experiences with the Church in China.  Like so many foreigners, he had no idea about the situation here.  There’s misinformation and, to a certain extent, prejudice and assumptions that prevent us from knowing the truth: what is it like to be Christian in China?

My experiences are not authoritative, but I’m glad to share what I know.  There is good news: the Catholic Church is here, with consecrated priests, beautiful churches, valid sacraments, and [some] legitimate bishops.  Chinese bibles (printed by the Patriotic Associations but, as far as I can tell, completely normal) are available, and most bookstores sell compilations of Bible stories.  In registered churches at least, foreigners and Chinese can worship together.  Even some house churches – sometimes with thousands of members – are tolerated by the authorities and allowed to operate relatively openly.

But it’s not all good news.

The freedoms that Christians enjoy are enjoyed at the whims of the government.  Some house churches are tolerated; others have their buildings razed and their leaders arrested.  Some bishops are recognized by both the government and the Vatican; others have been missing for months and even years.  The Bible is available but the Diocese of Hong Kong’s website is usually blocked.  There’s a beautiful cathedral to Mary, Help of Christians at Sheshan in Shanghai but they’ve imposed restrictions on pilgrimages during the Marian month of May.  It’s all a balancing act, in which the government tries to figure out which is going to be more of a hassle – letting the Christians do want they want, or dealing with the rest of the world if they don’t.

I know all of that, but what resounds most in my personal experiences is the isolation they experience.

The isolation of the mainland is impressive – in many areas, but especially Christianity.  The internet is censored; the Cardinal Kung Foundation website and are blocked (in fact, after a few such sensitive searches, all Google searches on my computer seem to be blocked).  But even when sites are accessible and available in Chinese (like the Vatican’s website), they’re often in traditional characters.  The PRC is the only nation that uses simplified Chinese characters, which has made it very hard for me to find texts that I can read.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the divisions brought about by differences in vocabulary, maybe caused when missionaries of different denominations did their own translation.  The books of the Bible are different for Christians and Catholics, and the two even call God by different names (天主 for Catholics and 上帝 for other Christians).  Perhaps because of this, Christianity and Catholicism are viewed as two mutually exclusive religions, instead of closely-related subsets.  Catholics in China are not only divided from Catholics throughout the rest of the world, but they also seem largely deprived of fellowship with their fellow Chinese Christians.

And then there is the internal disunity in the Chinese Catholic Church, the tension between the underground and patriotic churches.  I haven’t witnessed this too much, but I have on occasion seen some scorn surface when discussing the patriotic church.  This ostracization is another source of isolation, especially for Chinese bishops who are trying to maintain good standing with both the government and the Vatican so as to better tend their flock.

What I’m trying to say here is, there’s a desperate need for unity in the Church in China.  I believe that government control and divisions imposed from without are no match for mutual love and understanding, humility and forgiveness – and prayer.

Today, the Feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, has been declared as an International Day of Prayer for the Church in China.  And so I pray the words written by Pope Benedict when he dedicated the day for this purpose:

Virgin Most Holy, Mother of the Incarnate Word and our Mother, venerated in the Shrine of Sheshan under the title “Help of Christians,” the entire Church in China looks to you with devout affection.  We come before you today to implore your protection.  Look upon the People of God and, with a mother’s care, guide them along the paths of truth and love, so that they may always be a leaven of harmonious coexistence among all citizens. . .

Our Lady of Sheshan, sustain all those in China, who, amid their daily trials, continue to believe, to hope, to love.  May they never be afraid to speak of Jesus to the world, and of the world to Jesus.

In the statue overlooking the Shrine you lift your Son on high, offering him to the world with open arms in a gesture of love.  Help Catholics always to be credible witnesses to this love, ever clinging to the rock of Peter on which the Church is built.  Mother of China and all Asia, pray for us, now and forever.


  1. AMEN

    and good summary Maria!

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