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from issue no. 01 - 2004

SCENARIOS. The Catholic question seen from Taipei

Simply Chinese, citizens and Christians

«Now is the right moment for our reconciliation. Because the international prestige of Peking coincides with the good of the Church. And the Pope holds China in his heart every day». Interview with Cardinal Paul Shan

by Giovanni Cubeddu

On 3 December Paul Shan, Cardinal and Archbishop in Taiwan, was eighty years old. The Pope, who had created him Cardinal in 1998 and whom Shan had met in Rome after the celebrations for the twenty fifth anniversary of the pontificate, decided to retain this mild and intelligent Jesuit as President of the Episcopal Conference of Taiwan, the small and symbolic Church bridging with the faithful of great mainland China. Further, at least until now, Shan is the only Chinese cardinal and his analyses are authoritative because of their source and always interesting for their contents.
A procession through the streets of Taipei in Taiwan

A procession through the streets of Taipei in Taiwan

In September, those who have the future of the Chinese Catholic Church at heart were struck by the “unofficial” open letter of the Bishop of the diocese of Lanzhou, Joseph Han Zhi-hai, who affirmed his unity with those bishops of the “official” Church who had professed communion with the Pope, obtaining in return episcopal legitimization from Rome.
From here our conversation with Cardinal Shan begins.
«The letter of the Bishop of Lanzhou is very important, because we have a real need for reconciliation. We, both the non-official and the patriotic Church… have the same faith, we have the same sacraments! The division is imposed by the Peking government, it does not come from within. So, in future, for our good, for the good of Christians, we need reconciliation. And on this path dialogue is necessary before anything else, a mutual willingness and a clarification of the misunderstandings between us. We have both made efforts, co-operated in pastoral and missionary work and in conveying the Gospel, and now I believe that the right moment has come for our reconciliation. And I also believe that this is the will of God, because Jesus at the Last Supper prayed for unity, for reconciliation, because we are united with him and united to the Father. We too must pray for this. We know that the prayer of the majority of the faithful, of the priests, of the religious and of the bishops is for unity, they want to be united, reconciled, because the division derives from external errors. We must pray a lot.»
On what basis do you say that this is the moment?
PAUL SHAN: I think that the new Chinese leadership in Peking is very open. Much more than in the past. I think that also for the common good of the country, the government wants the people to be united and not divided. It is only some officials at the lower levels who, for their own advantage, still want the Church to be divided. Vice versa the leaders of the government understand how useful unity is for the reconstruction of the country, they know how much strength comes from unity and how much weakness from division. When I say now is the time it is because, the reason lies in the will of the new leadership to construct an economically strong China. The Christians, united among themselves, can make a greater contribution to the development of the economy, of agriculture, of consumption, of the infra-structures and so on.
Would the Church benefit from the openness of the new leadership ?
SHAN: I would say rather that the Church, the government, the Country benefits from it. If this wished for change comes about, everyone will benefit from it. If the government allows the Church to be united, its own international prestige will increase proportionally. In 2008 the Olympic Games will be held in China, great numbers of people will come and they will be able to see with their own eyes whether Christians are then enjoying religious freedom. It will be the very fact of the arrival of these people that puts pressure on the government. Peking is playing an ever larger role in the world theater, it is extending its contacts abroad. And if it allows Christians to be united, it will do so for its own prestige, which coincides with the good of the Church, with the possibility of there being a normal life for Christians also.
The letter of the Bishop of Lanzhou refers to the necessity to soften certain rigidities contained in the famous Directives of the Holy See regarding some problems of the Church in mainland China which emanated from Propaganda Fide. An updating is necessary, in other words. Do you agree?
SHAN: Yes. Because the situation is changing and the directives of the Holy See must also be adapted to that reality. If the government allows Christians to be united and to have freedom, then many of the obstacles for the establishing of diplomatic relations between Peking and the Holy See would come down. So that’s why I say that the fundamental problem is to allow Christians to enjoy religious freedom. The question of diplomatic relations is not a problem.
Right, Cardinal Paul Shan

Right, Cardinal Paul Shan

But it would be difficult to establish diplomatic relations between the Holy See and mainland China, while maintaining those with Taiwan at the same time.
SHAN: Naturally, if the Holy See could have diplomatic relations with both, it would be much better. But if this turns out to be impossible, and the relations with Taiwan had to change, as for example to an apostolic delegation, we in Taiwan would understand this. We know that the nature of the diplomacy of the Holy See is purely religious, not political, and we have explained well to all of our local Church that Vatican diplomacy is not concerned with worldly issues. So if something happens in the diplomatic field, we in Taiwan will understand it.
How are current relations between the mainland Chinese Church and that of Taiwan?
SHAN: Since we are all “the” Chinese people, and we form the same Church and know each other, we try our best to help each other, through our prayers, our love, our friendship, our care and also sometimes through material help.
What would your advice be today to facilitate the relationship between the Holy See and the Peking government? What steps should Rome take?
SHAN: First of all, in order to talk to each other there is the need of a dialogue, of discussions, of contacts, of finding little by little a way that will be acceptable to both parties. As regards the Church and the doctrinal aspects, we must certainly remain within our authentic tradition, not abandon the faith, otherwise we would not be Catholics any longer. But for the rest the Church can securely adapt itself to all forms of political regimes and, as the Holy Father has said, we can coexist with any political system.
How do you judge the pressures on the subject of human rights that are often directed by international organizations at Peking? And the requests that the United States have sometimes made to mainland China in the field of relations with the Holy See?
SHAN: It is neither the idea nor the intention of the Holy See to bring pressure on governments. If sometimes it proves impossible to have direct contacts, the Holy See attempts to have indirect ones through other governments. But this does not mean “bringing pressure”. If I can’t speak to someone, I go to his friend so that he can talk to him. But I don’t bring pressure … otherwise the reaction will be negative.
Recently in fact Cardinal Danneels warned of the danger for the Catholic Church «if it presents itself as a centralized organization that dispatches its agents throughout the world», because that «could arouse resistance in China more than elsewhere».
SHAN: Dialogue serves precisely so that in China they may understand the nature of the Holy See. It is not an ordinary worldly government, worldly power, but a religion. So far Peking has not understood this and continues to interpret the actions of the Holy See as political and not religious activities. This is the point. So if Peking understood that the nature of the Holy See is other, it would know that there is nothing to be afraid of. Chinese Christians are not trying to achieve any political goal, except to manage to live as simple citizens and to give thanks to God with greater freedom. In norml fashion.
the meeting of the Chinese Prime Minister  Wen Jibao with George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House on 9 December 2003

the meeting of the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jibao with George W. Bush in the Oval Office of the White House on 9 December 2003

In these twenty five years how has John Paul II treated China?
SHAN: Certainly this Pope has a great love for the Church in China. Every time I have met him, he has always said that every morning he says a prayer for China, for all the people of China, and not just now but from the moment he was elected Pope. I also remember when he went to Korea in 1984. On the plane with him there was no Chinese journalist, only some European ones. I read in a Korean English newspaper which had interviewed him during the flight that the Pope had said: “The Church spread in Korea having come from Peking. I pray ever day for China”. And I remember well that during the last Asian Synod, on the opening day, the person who presided over the Assembly recounted how he had been invited to a lunch with the Pope and that during the meal the Korean Cardinal Kim had jokingly asked the Pope «Holy Father you have been to Korea twice, why don’t you go to Taiwan? I’ve been there…» . The Holy Father replied: « I very much want to. I can go to Seoul, Peking, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Hanoi…» And he listed all the places he had not yet visited. «Your Holiness,» said Cardinal Kim, «you need at least three months for such a journey» . The Pope replied: “«I don’t need three months, I do this journey every day in my prayers» . This means that the Pope keeps China in his heart every day. He always reminds us that the Church of China, China and its people are very dear to him. So I would say, after twenty five years of his pontificate, that the Church in China is certainly one of his “ preoccupations” .
Certainly, he is the Pope of the universal Church, the pastor of all the faithful, but when there are Christians who are particularly in need and difficulty, I believe that he has special concern and affection for them, a particular prayer. A good father, even with many children, gives all his heart and attention to the sick and lost child. This Pope is like that for the Church in China.
There have been moments of tension between Taipei and Peking because the Taiwan parliament approved a law which made a referendum for the declaration of independence from mainland China possible. But President Bush also declared himself contrary to actions which would change the status quo between Taipei and Peking. What do you think of this? And in what way can all of this influence the life of the Church in China?
SHAN: In so far as the situation between Taipei and Peking is concerned, I would say to leave everything as it is. Now, in general, the status quo is best. We will talk about changing the day when things are simpler and in Peking there will be a greater consideration for human rights, democracy and freedom of religion.

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