Franciscan Sister Kathleen Murphy offers a reflection regarding Pope Francis’ March prayer intention for the Chinese Catholic Church.
This photo shows the doors of a Chinese Catholic church. The church has been emptied of all religious symbols, named as a forbidden space, and sealed to deny anyone entrance under severe penalties. This is part of the current picture of the Church in China. Thus, it is no surprise that Pope Francis calls us to pray this month for the Church of China. Our intention reads: We pray that the Church in China may persevere in its faithfulness to the Gospel and grow in unity.
Psalm 86:11 tells us, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.” As the Holy Father calls for unity in the Chinese Church, we join our prayers for an undivided heart with which this beleaguered people may revere God’s name. Catholicism in China is often thought to be practiced in two distinct churches—one controlled by the government and named the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), and one which follows the Pope’s leadership and is often labeled “The Underground Church”. In reality there is one Church in China, but it assuredly is a Church divided. Just as our own country currently endures deep divisions, yet remains one nation, so is the Catholic Church of China.
In broad strokes, the main and significant difference between the two factions is recognition of the Pope’s leadership. Just during the past year Pope Francis and Vatican officials have worked out an agreement with the CCPA, however the terms of the agreement remain secret. This seems to have done little to heal the divisions of the faithful.
The Underground Church endures varying degrees of persecution ranging from imprisonment and kidnapping of priests and laity, to removal of religious symbols especially crosses on the outside of the churches. Destruction of church buildings is far too common and faith communities are often forced to meet clandestinely for Mass. In some places the faithful cannot be told the time at which Mass will be celebrated until one hour in advance of the liturgy. Gathering places for Mass must be changed with great frequency and laity and clergy alike may suffer if it is discovered that they have Bibles, prayer books, rosaries or religious images.
As we go peacefully to our chapels or churches each day, let us offer our prayers for those faithful who are denied this privilege. We especially pray for Catholics in China that they may persevere in carrying the cross of persecution in whatever form it may show itself. As we pray freely whenever and wherever we wish, let us lift up the Church of China that it may be blessed with the unity so near to Jesus heart as he said, “May they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you. (Jn