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from issue no. 05 - 2007

The marathon runner of small steps

The choice of Aloysius

by Gianni Valente

Now that from the height of his ninety-two springs he turns to look back at the long tract of the road already completed, Aloysius Jin Luxian can very well say that time, at least in his case, has been a gentleman. For his still numerous detractors the “Patriarch” of Shanghai remains a living enigma. But his life itself, just as it emerges from the valuable biography edited by the French journalist Dorian Malovic (Le Pape Jaune, Perrin Editions, 2006), presents itself as a priceless road map to help one revisit, even in its most intimate and hurtful vicissitudes, the unparallelled adventure of the Chinese Church over the past sixty years.
When Luxian was born in a Christian village in Pudong, where there were rice fields and where the skyscrapers of the “new” Shanghai rise today, the city was already a cosmopolitan megalopolis full of traffic and Russian exiles in escape from the Soviets, of opium dens and prostitutes. His mother was a fervent Catholic, the father a hedonist who liked to tarry late with his friends drinking liqueurs and smoking cigars. He was christened and heard his first masses in an ancient pagoda that the missionaries had converted into a church. His Jesuit vocation emerged in a Church with strong colonial traits, where the superiors did not speak Mandarin, and the standard of living of the Jesuit novices – electricity and heating, eggs, meat, cheeses, coffee at the meal’s end – seems to him today an island of privilege surrounded by poverty. During his years of study in Europe just after the war – first in France, then two years at the Gregorian in the Eternal City to prepare his thesis on the Trinity – he became friend and also confidant of Father Henri de Lubac, before the interdictions of the Holy Office came down on him and on his Jesuit companions of Fourvière. When Mao took power, against the opinions of his superiors, Jin decided to return to his native land. Because of this the Communists were to accuse him of being a spy sent directly by Pius XII to organize the counter-revolution. But mistrust of him took root immediately even in the ecclesial spheres. One of the first signs of the great persecution was when the Vatican nuncio Antonio Riberi targeted him to his Jesuit superiors as a suspicious element because of his ideas on the necessary “decolonization” of the Chinese Church. Nevertheless, the brilliant Jesuit fresh from European studies becomes rector of the Shanghai seminary. While the expulsion of foreign missionaries began, he also joined the network of the “underground” committees inspired by Bishop Ignatius Gong Pinmei aimed at countering, among the faithful, the effects of Communist propaganda. The night of 8 September 1955 Jin was one of those arrested in the roundup that opened the prison doors to the bishop and his closest collaborators. From that event, Jin learned a lesson that he was to follow for the rest of his life: « Never, but never, have secret dealings with Communists».
He passed more than twenty years in Mao’s jails. Nevertheless, when in 1973 he was transferred to Beijing jail and co-opted to collaborate with the government translation office, the most infamous accusations were made against him, fomented also by his authoritative foreign brothers. It was whispered that in the interrogations undergone with the police in the ’fifties he betrayed his companions. They murmured that the government was blackmailing him because of a secret daughter “hidden” somehow in America.
When in the ’eighties he agreed to become bishop of Shanghai with the recognition of the government, but without that of the Pope – while the old Gong Pinmei was still under house-arrest – the black tale of Jin the careerist and puppet in the hands of the regime was credited even in the Vatican. In that period, while the other bishops consecrated without apostolic mandate invoked the emergency situation and asked the Vatican that their canonically irregular ordination be recognized, Jin temporized, exposing himself to accusations of schism. He knew that in Shanghai the Holy See had already recognized the underground consecration of the other Jesuit Giuseppe Fan, destined to become legitimate successor of Gong, and in Canon Law there cannot be two bishops in one diocese. But his taking time also answered to a human calculation: the intuition that such a choice was more useful to the return of the Church to the ordinary life of Shanghai after the great persecution. «My duty as priest», the “yellow Pope” says in his own justification in the pages of his biography, «was that of convincing the Chinese political authorities of my good faith, of my deep identity as a patriot and of the inoffensive character of my Catholic faith». In the interviews with Malovic, Jin admitted at different times that in the years of the tribulation there were those who were braver than he. And his idea that in the given conditions it was more effective to serve the Church of Christ using friendships with politicians and keeping himself in a condition of canonical irregularity, in order not to expose himself to the suspicions and the reprisals of the regime, can certainly be debated. But time reveals hearts, and the facts speak in favor of Jin. Shanghai was the first diocese to reinsert the prayers for the Pope in the liturgy. Its seminary and the whole diocesan structure flourished again. Jin never signed any document in support of the “independence” of the Chinese Church. And the ordination of his successor in pectore Giuseppe Xing Wenzhi – nominated by the Pope, “elected” by the diocese, approved of by the government – was a masterpiece of diplomacy and sensus Ecclesiae, played on the minefield of relations between Beijing and the Vatican. An operation during which there arrived also for Jin the greatly desired canonical acknowledgment from the Pope, who then also invited him to Rome – though it did not come about – for the Synod on the Eucharist. «I could have been an anti-communist hero in a foreign country», Jin explains to Malovic, «but not in China». For the future, he hopes that the silent martyrdom of being pointed at for years as an accomplice of the persecutors of the Church will earn him a discount for his sins: «God alone knows where I have always reposed my fidelity, and His judgment matters more to me than the justice of men».

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