Seeking Common Ground

May they be one

A 1610 Chinese portrait of Matteo Ricci

Rev Dr Ji Zhang reflects on the historic agreement between the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China on the mutual recognition of bishops appointed both by the Catholic Church in China and Vatican.

In the 17th century, Matteo Ricci was one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China mission. He studied Chinese, read the classics, learned cultural customs and engaged a life-long dialogue between the Gospel and the culture. Then he wrote these words: “before entering into friendship, one must observe; after becoming friends, one must trust” (De Amicitia, 7).

The 400-year long history of Catholic Church in China reached a historic moment on 22 September 2018. For the first time after the Catholic mission left China in 1951, there is a mutual recognition of some bishops appointed both by the Catholic Church in China and Vatican. After a long discernment encouraged by the commitment of three Popes, the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China was reached.

In a pastoral letter Pope Francis  said: “we can initiate an unprecedented process that we hope will help to heal the wounds of the past, restore full communion among all Chinese Catholics, and lead to a phase of greater fraternal cooperation, in order to renew our commitment to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel”.

The decision is primarily pastoral in nature. After careful listening to different views, the Pope sought the true good of the Church in China.

“I have determined to grant reconciliation to the remaining seven ‘official’ bishops ordained without papal mandate … to readmit them to full ecclesial communion. At the same time, I ask them to express with concrete and visible gestures their restored unity with the Apostolic See and with the Churches spread throughout the world, and to remain faithful despite any difficulties”.

10 million Catholics in China have gained a public space for their faith and place. Many local congregations have been included in the ecumenical movement.

For many church leaders in China this is a spiritual calling. The Catholic community in China has a history that stretches more than 400 years. During this period, the faithful struggled to gain acceptance in the Chinese civilisation, the congregations evolved amid social turbulence during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, and the Catholic faithful survived more than half a century of colonialism.

After 60 years of disconnection, the new agreement is an instrument to peace, not to solve all struggles, but to open a new chapter in history, so the faithful may witness the unity of the Lord and be in communion with the universal church.

The Uniting Church in Australia supports our Catholic brothers and sisters in China on this journey. We also acknowledge the significant contribution made by the Foreign Affairs Department of the State Council of China on this journey to seek common good and bring the negotiation to a fruitful conclusion.

As a post-denominational church, our Basis of Union recognises that the Uniting Church exists for the sake of bearing witness to the risen crucified Lord and to the self-giving love of God to the world (Paragraph 3). We affirm that unity is both Christ’s gift and calling.

We invite the Circle Seeking Common Ground in particular to join in prayer for our brothers and sisters in China. Pope Francis offered this prayer:

Mother of Heaven, hear the plea of your children as we humbly call upon your name!

Virgin of Hope, we entrust to you the journey of the faithful in the noble land of China. We ask you to present to the Lord of history the trials and tribulations, the petitions and the hopes of all those who pray to you, O Queen of Heaven!

Mother of the Church, we consecrate to you the present and the future of our families and our communities. Protect and sustain them in fraternal reconciliation and in service to the poor who bless your name, O Queen of Heaven!

Consolation of the Afflicted, we turn to you, for you are the refuge of all who weep amid their trials. Watch over your sons and daughters who praise your name; make them one in bringing the proclamation of the Gospel. Accompany their efforts to build a more fraternal world. Grant that they may bring the joy of forgiveness to all whom they meet, O Queen of Heaven!

Mary, Help of Christians, for China we implore days of blessing and of peace. Amen!