I had the opportunity to visit China a few years ago. I went as part of a program promoting the exchange of ideas between schools in the US and China. I met a lot of wonderful people and got to visit a nation that is breathtaking. I visited during the winter, so many things weren't in bloom at the time...but the natural landmarks I saw were spectacular. I loved the place. I loved the food. I loved the people I met.
I hated the silence.
I stayed there for a few weeks and came across only one church. I am not sure what religion it was, but I was disappointed to see how closed off it was. Even the churches I've visited in Washington Heights, NYC weren't this closed off or barred. There was a huge iron fence around the entire perimeter and, if I didn't know any better, I would have said that the place was condemned...due to the lack of upkeep. It was disheartening for someone so used to lively, well-nurtured churches (regardless of denomination). The memory hasn't left me.
Militant atheists may argue that we do not have any need in this world for religion and will fight to have their way. I beg too differ about this. You see, the books I've read by Gabriel Amorth mention that a lack of religion lead to a rise in superstition. I believe him. While in China, I came across a large number of superstitions pertaining to luck, money, fertility...you name it. Wear red shoes to your wedding for good luck. Split your chopsticks evenly for good luck. Avoid giving gifts in particular numbers, in blue or white because it's bad luck regarding death. Buy red and gold for prosperity. If you were born in a particular lunar year, the particular animal you were born under gave you particular skills or qualities. Dragons for luck and prosperity...a phoenix for longevity, you name it. Jade money monsters were good omens for monetary fortunes. Cabbages are good for wealth...you name it.
We Americans posed in front of two lion statues guarding a building within the Forbidden Palace. One is a male holding the world in his hands (prosperity, luck). One is a female, playing with a baby lion (family, fertility). The guides told us that before the whole "1 baby per couple" mandate, all women would flock to the female lion statue with the belief that they would get pregnant soon. These days, these statues do not have women posing in front of them. Women are scared of posing before these statues. Guess why? Superstition and the whole one woman = one baby rule. The other options are abortion, lie about the child (turning them into a "niece" or "nephew"), pay a hefty fine, or abandon the child at some location (hopefully an adoption place). Women are so afraid of that second child (a few special exceptions aside). This fear was evident in the silence and abrupt change in topic I met whenever I tried to find out the methods used by the state to control pregnancies. Even if the couple chooses to pay the fine, or are permitted to keep a second child for some reason, they live in a society where others will mock this need for a second child (only farmers need another child!) by a nation of couples what will then stare wistfully at the family pictures (with 2+ kids) of visiting internationals.
People my age asked what it was like having two sisters and they talked about their own families. They didn't have to explain in detail just how much weight they had on their shoulders. They had to perform well in school to give their parents a comfortable retirement. They had to marry people that would ensure prosperity. We had some things in common (our love of Tolkien and Jane Austen), but it was almost as if we had grown up in different worlds. During one conversation, I was thrown off guard by a nonchalant "two students committed suicide during finals." This would have made national news in the US....but it was commonplace there. This was simply something that happened during finals...much like rain happens when it gets too cloudy. If you failed at meeting certain expectations, your death was almost treated as a "next logical step." Forget the sanctity of human life...the tragic loss of an intelligent student that just did not make the cut. I hope that the family, at least, would grieve their loss...because no one else would.
The older generations tended to keep silent about any touchy subjects. They had no complaints about the order of things. They thought everything was fine as is. At least that's what they told us. The younger people I encountered were less reserved when it came to talking about everything from religion to some flaws in their education system. I got the impression that at least one or two of them wanted to know more about religion. They seemed to believe in God, but did not know how to go about the whole religion thing. They seemed to want some form of religion...but didn't really have the resources that we take for granted. Imagine having a conversation with someone who wanted to explore religion, but felt it was a toss-up between Buddhism or Christianity. These are the types of conversations I had.
My big point here is that there is a yearning in their hearts for God, even though freedom of religion is so heavily oppressed by the Chinese state. These people want so desperately to believe...but are restricted. They, therefore, cling so desperately to whatever beliefs they can. They are allowed to believe in so many frivolous superstitions (red shoes, cabbage pendants, etc) and so they adhere to them. However, they cannot cling to the faith that we so lightly toss aside. It sounds crazy, but I feel that the Chinese government is afraid of us. Cabbage pendants, red wedding shoes, and dragon figurines are harmless. Our faith, however, is dangerous in the right hands.
And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted" -Luke 2:34
Our faith threatens to make our Chinese brothers and sisters rethink things such as the single child policy. It will call out mandated abortions for what they really are...murder. It will call the government out on its violations of human rights and the dignity of its inhabitants. It will teach the people that the government is just that...a government...not a deity with the right to permanently silence well-meaning human rights activists. It will give people dangerous ideas like the idea of eternal salvation through acts of love and charity. Most dangerous of all ideas, it will teach the people that there is only one Master who loves as as brothers and treats us as equals....and teach these people that they have the same rights and freedoms as those who hold power over this once great nation. Yes, I say "once great" and I mean it. I don't care how many billionaires you create, how much you export, how much you lend the US government, or how much you control the global economy. These things are all temporal and they don't mean anything to me. What matters to me is that a nation is capable of giving its citizens the basic human rights we take advantage of so often. A nation that rules by flexing muscle, instilling fear, and encouraging silence...is no great nation in my book. Give me a nation that respects its people and rules in a fair manner...and I will call this nation great.
Imagine what it would be like to have every one of your prayers monitored. Imagine living in a place that forbade you from praying as you wish. That separated you from a Church founded by Christ...a Church so loved by Christ. A Church entrusted to Peter and a long line of holy fathers leading all the way up to our Papa Bento. Imagine a nation where talk of apostolic succession (such as this) can get you in trouble...where the government picks your bishops.
Think about the things your government wouldn't tell you every time it picked a bishop. Each appointment would serve as a wedge to separate you from your true Church...from your true faith. Each appointment would be made with the government's best interests in mind. With that said, this government would certainly make bishops out of men who would put the words of the governments before the words of God. Imagine being afraid to accept such an atrocity...being afraid of showing the wrong reaction to this appointment. Imagine, for a second that you were a bishop that was forced by the government to sit in on such as mockery of a bishop appointment. Imagine weighing the consequences of your actions. What would happen to you and your family if you chose to take your faith underground...to go to an underground mass held by priests true to Rome...true to the Roman Catholic Church...and not a puppet church? What would happen to your soul and the souls of your family members over time as you continued to adhere to the puppet church's words? Would you have the courage to get up and leave from a "mass" when the homily given by a particular "priest" was blatantly contradictory to the teachings of Christ. Imagine being afraid to correct the message in this homily when you teach your faith to your child. Though you love your child dearly, the child is already targeted by so much propaganda that you begin to wonder if this child will say something or do something that reveals your "dissident" thoughts to the government.
We American Catholics have it so easy and should be ashamed of how much we take advantage of when it comes to faith. I don't like criticizing people and I know there is so much good within our Church...but I take a look at the news sometimes and cannot believe half of the things going on in this world. As you can see by the title of this post and the ongoing quasi-rant, one of the stories that draws my attention is the plight of our fellow Catholics in China who live every day in fear of being discovered secretly adhering to the Roman Church or fear subjecting themselves to a puppet-church run by a government that forces women to abort their children and forces families to adhere to the government version of Christ's teachings.
We are free to worship as we see fit, regardless of how much we may or may not complain about our parishes, Papa Bento, or any number of prominent Catholic figures. When we are lazy on Sunday mornings, we simply stay at home. We don't think of the hundreds or thousands of people that risk imprisonment or worse whenever they sneak off to an underground service. When we don't feel like praying, we pretend that prayer isn't important. We don't think of the many Catholic missionaries that go to China under cover and at their own risk...just to teach people to pray. We complain about the state of our Church when the current economy forces a parish to use plastic flowers after the local florist can no longer afford to donate flower arrangements. We don't think about how people in China (and even other areas of the world) have to crowd in someone's basement just so they can receive the Eucharist. Don't even get me started on our indifference to the Eucharist. There are those who complain about the its taste...even those who have the gall to debate transubstantiation. These people don't think about the lengths the Catholic Chinese go through to receive the body of Christ. We lukewarm Catholics should be ASHAMED of all of the things we take for granted.
Some of us are so satisfied with our own lives that we have grown complacent and learned to take advantage of a faith that people have died for. We throw faith aside when it is convenient for us...even bringing shame to our faith with half of the swear words that come out of our mouths. If you don't believe me, just Google the meaning behind "OMFG." ....*pause as you look it up*....Yes, that is the disgraceful atrocity that is coming out of our youth's mouths these days. Yet, none of us care anymore. We do not even think twice about using God's name in vain anymore...even though there are those in this world who aren't even allowed to revere God's name.
We have to pray for our brothers and sisters in China. Pray for their freedom. Pray that the Chinese government awards them the same freedoms we take advantage of. Show some solidarity! Support their faith in any way you can. Support the missionaries, support the Church, help show the world what's going on in China by making it known...even if it's a simple tweet consisting of "Pray for Chinese Catholics." Show the world that you will not stand for religious oppression. Live your faith! You're allowed to show the world you're Catholic...so DO IT.
To all Catholic Chinese,
Be strong and do not lose faith. You have not been abandoned by Christ. He watches over you as you read this and loves you...TRULY loves you. He knew that his people would suffer in his name and he knew how hard it would be for his flock to live according to his word. He also knew exactly what he was saying when he built his church.
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."- Matthew 16:18
You may be oppressed now, but it is temporary. God runs the show and knows exactly how everything will play out in the end. Everything you are living through now, has already happened....and faith prevailed each time. No matter what the world will try to tell you, Christ will always prevail and the suffering of his followers will never be in vain. He loves us too much to ever let his words die....regardless of what the government or others may tell you.
Christianity must have appeared at some point that itwas doomed for failure from its start....but it's still so very much alive today. The world saw some unshaven guy coming out of the desert, wearing camel skin and proclaiming the coming of God. If someone were to do this today, the world would be convinced that he was talking the crazy and probably institutionalize him. He would not have a single follower. Now imagine what the world must have thought when some other guy (a relative of this first strange man...go figure, it must run in the family) started telling everyone that he's the son of God. The world also thought that this guy was crazy. Who could believe half of the things he was saying, especially he expected us to love even our enemies?
The world thought that nobody would take him seriously...let alone die for him. Yet, that is exactly what happened and the world was wrong. Christianity spread like wild fire in spite of all of the persecution, death, and suffering of early Christians. Their faith never wavered and the word spread to every continent. Yes, our history is not perfect. However, it's real and it teaches us that Christ will always come out victor...regardless of how many times people have tried to murder or persecute his followers. Your faith will not be forgotten and may one day serve as an example to the rest of the world. No matter what the world or your doubts try to tell you now, you will one day be allowed to worship freely.
I know that one day China will be freed from oppression. History has taught me that much. The Roman empire started off by persecuting Christians...but ended as a Christian empire. Oppressive governments will be toppled...they're always toppled. I know that China's children will one day be allowed to worship as they please because God is watching over them now. He knows what's going on and He's looking out for you. I know that one day, your children will remember your sacrifices you made as they teach their own children their faith. Christ is comforted by your unwavering faith...even as his heart is pained by the suffering of his followers. Do not worry if mass takes place in someone's attic, or if you can only see a Roman Catholic priest once a month (as he must travel from location to location)...your greatest reward is in heaven.
|Agony in the Garden, handmade portrait|
Photograph taken at a state-run souvenir shop in Beijing.
Ironic how the government knows how to cater to the spiritual needs
of tourists and not its own people.
One day, Christ will welcome you at heaven's door as a faithful servant....that is the greatest reward (at least in my book). He will commend you taking care of his Church, for keeping your faith, and for living in true imitation of Him. You may not have a church to call home now...but your strong faith puts ours to shame. You are truly more deserving of a beautiful, free church than I am. I know you're struggling and my thoughts and prayers are with you. However, I assure you that none of your suffering is in vain...and that faith will win in the end. It always does.
To everyone else out there, please take a moment to pray for China's Catholics and do what you can to support them. Pray, spread the word, donate, live your faith, and be a voice for those who are silenced by their government. Athleta Christi unite!