Cardinal Etchegaray Evaluates Trip to China

Sees Hope and Challenges

VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 28, 2000 ( Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the Central Committee of the Great Jubilee, traveled to China last week to participate in a Chinese-Italian Symposium on «Religions and Peace.»

As the Oct. 1 canonization of China martyrs approaches, Beijing has been increasingly critical of the event, which coincides with a national holiday in China and which it sees as a political slight.

The cardinal traveled to China in a personal capacity. In previous years, John Paul II had entrusted him with difficult missions to countries like Vietnam, or the republics of former Yugoslavia.

The French cardinal, 76, said that the days he spent in the Far East were among the most delicate in his long career. Here is an interview he gave with Vatican Radio:

-- Vatican Radio: Your Eminence, your trip to China seems to have taken an unforeseen turn, going beyond the personal character you announced before your departure.

-- Cardinal Etchegaray: Yes and no. After the symposium on «Religions and Peace,» which was the main purpose of my trip, which was a great success because of the atmosphere and seriousness of the historical and theological exchanges, a totally new road opened before me, which I hoped to follow with God's grace, as a Jubilee messenger of reconciliation among Catholics. In fact, this is the greatest challenge the Church in China and the Jubilee must address. As John Paul II often says, the Holy Year is a favorable time for apostolic audacity, for spiritual hopes.

I return more convinced than ever of the need and urgency for this testimony of union, especially at a time when China «is awakening» to the greatest social change in its history. You have to see Putong, the new Shanghai, as I have seen it with its vice governor, to realize what the China of tomorrow will be like, whose inebriating modernization makes a «supplement of soul» all the more necessary.

-- Q: The press agencies said that you were taken from Beijing to Shanghai by the Catholic Patriotic Association, not recognized by the Holy See.

-- Cardinal Etchegaray: Before leaving, I said clearly that none of my steps should be interpreted as an approval of the structures of the official [state-approved] church. What interested me most of all was to meet people, and I could only do so through an omnipresent association linked to the government.

Seeing things from afar, some are tempted to cut everything with a knife, as on Judgment Day. However, seeing them from inside, one realizes that we are still at the evangelization stage, where the wheat cannot be separated from the weeds. Above all, because this is about the one Church, in which a common faith tries, little by little, to overcome what, up until now, sadly separates the «clandestine» faithful from the «official.» However, time is making its border ever more porous, at least in some regions of that immense country.

--Q: What religious contacts did you make?

--Cardinal Etchegaray: Above all I intensely deplore, and I made this known, not having been allowed to contact members of the clandestine Church. I also vigorously protested against the new wave of arrests of the faithful, including bishops, during the time I was in China. The most moving moment of my trip was my pilgrimage to Our Lady of Sheshan, situated 40 kilometers from Shanghai. This Marian shrine is much loved and frequented, especially during the month of May, by all Catholics without distinction.

When celebrating the first Mass offered publicly in China, since the 1949 revolution, by a cardinal from Rome, you can understand my weeping over the maternal tenderness of the one invoked specifically with the title of Our Lady of Mercy. She can do much for the reconciliation of all her children.

I visited the national seminary in Beijing for a long time and the one in Shanghai: Each one has some 120 students of philosophy and theology. What fervent dialogue I lived with those youths, avid for the Gospel and intense about the Pope; they will be the moving force of a united Church in the service of the Chinese people!

The big problem, and those responsible are aware of it, is the formation of the teachers, as official Bishop Jin Luxian said in Shanghai. He spent 18 years in prison and nine in labor camps. While listening to those youths, I thought a lot about the clandestine seminarians, who cannot benefit from the same means of formation.

--Q: You especially underline the Pope's role in the life of the Church in China.

--Cardinal Etchegaray: I state it simply with joy: undoubtedly, there is there, more than in other places, the ferment and guarantee of a truly Catholic faith. This makes the division that stems from tragic and complex contingencies of history all the much more intolerable.

The fact that I recognized the fidelity to the Pope of the Catholics of the official church, can in no way diminish my recognition of the heroic fidelity of the silent Church. Both sides live painfully in their flesh and spirit, although in different ways, the ever fragile relation between faith and history, which must always be reviewed in truth.

The history of the Church throughout the centuries, with its lights and shadows, is illustrated by the word of Jesus: «Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.» It is something really unhealthy to sink, or allow clandestine Catholics to sink, for reasons that are not religious, while many of them aspire to be recognized as genuine patriots.

--Q: One of the obstacles is the growing multiplication of episcopal ordinations without the Pope's consent.

--Cardinal Etchegaray: This is a very serious fact that affects ecclesiology. If it is repeated, there is a risk of impeding the rapprochement among Catholics. I had the opportunity to say it clearly to the official bishops of Beijing and Nanjing. The question of the ordination of bishops is a crucial point for the Church and state; it can neither be avoided nor easily resolved, given the differences and points of view. However, history shows that reasonable solutions can be found in all political climates.

--Q: Another stone has appeared on the road now: the canonization of the Chinese martyrs, which will take place Oct. 1.

--Cardinal Etchegaray: How is it possible that an event of a religious character, such as the recognition of the sanctity of the Church in China, can cause the opposite effect in the Beijing authorities? The history of relations between the Church and China is full of misunderstandings - I am thinking, for example, of the sad controversy over the «Chinese rites.»

The latter incident is proof of the distance that exists between the East and West. If there had been a possibility for dialogue, the question could have been examined in total serenity and objectivity. In addition, there is the disagreeable coincidence with the date of the national holiday of the Chinese people: those who chose Oct. 1 were thinking only of the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, patroness of the missions. I am certain of their decision, and there is no kind of provocation or revenge. John Paul II, great friend of China, does not lower himself to such mean calculations.

I hope that one day Father Matteo Ricci - «Li Mato,» as he is known to the Chinese - will be beatified. The diocesan process of beatification has already been completed. The memory of this wise Jesuit of the 16th century, who was accepted by the imperial court, is very alive in the grateful memory of all the people.

Twenty years ago, I was able to pray in front of his memorial stone in the center of Beijing. All this makes me wish for dialogue between the Church and China as soon as possible; a genuinely Catholic Church and China, rising in flight like a wonderful dragon in the East of the world, converting fully to become part of the universal Church.

Zenit - The World Seen From Rome

av Webmaster publisert 29.09.2000, sist endret 29.09.2000 - 10:10