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from issue no. 10 - 2005


An American cardinal in Beijing

The Archbishop of Washington tells of his seventh journey to the former Celestial Empire. And manifests his esteem for the new President of the Supreme Court of the United States

Interview with Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick by Gianni Cardinale

Theodore Edgar McCarrick;

Theodore Edgar McCarrick;

On October 25 last the Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano made a declarations on the state of relations between the Peoples Republic of China and the Holy See. Among other things the cardinal spoke of the actual existence not so much of “negotiations” with the Chinese government («the word is excessive»), but of «conversations, contacts». And he added: «How many Churchmen go to China? How many representatives of the Chinese government are there in the world, ambassadors, men of culture, businessmen, men of commerce? There is a continuous osmosis because the world is one. Today the world is united and the Church too is united». The journey that Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, made to Beijing about ten days previously can be considered one of the signs of this “continuous osmosis”. 30Days took advantage of the American cardinal’s presence in Rome for a brief discussion of his recent journey to the former Celestial Empire.

Your Eminence, this was not your first trip to China…
THEODORE EDGAR McCARRICK: I am, so to speak, a habitual visitor to China. I think this is the seventh time I’ve had the privilege of going to visit my friends there. The invitation came from an organization of Sino-American friendship called “The Chinese-American friendship association”. I was their guest. The visit lasted two days, October 13 and 14.
What cities did you visit?
McCARRICK: This time I was only in Beijing. I had the opportunity of speaking to some old friends and also to a member of the government, their number four Jia Qinglin, to be precise. Returning to the United States, then, I went by Hong Kong and there too I met a group of friends.
Did you also meet churchmen?
McCARRICK: Few. It was not an ecclesiastical visit but one of Sino-American friendship.
In your discussions were you able to speak of the Chinese bishops invited to the Synod in October?
Aloysius Jin Luxian

Aloysius Jin Luxian

McCARRICK: We spoke about many issues and among them was also the invitation made by the Pope to the Chinese bishops to participate in the Synod.
What reactions did you register with regard to this invitation?
McCARRICK: It seems to me that at the start the Chinese authorities were a little confused and perplexed by this invitation, but then they understood that it was another gesture by the Pope showing his closeness and sympathy for the Church and all the Chinese people.
As compared with your ealier visits, how did you find the situation of the Catholic Church in China?
McCARRICK: Improved. Everyone knows by now that the last ordinations of bishops in China were performed not only with the approval of the political authorities but also with the previous consent of the Holy See and this is very important. We must all pray that all the Chinese bishops and all the Catholic communities in China be united and in full communion with the Holy See.
You know one of these bishops well, the new auxiliary of Shanghai.
McCARRICK: Yes, I know Monsignor Joseph Xing Wenzhi well because he did some of his studies in the United States and I had the opportunity to watch him from close up. I’m particularly happy therefore at his nomination and at the fact that it was accepted by everyone, by the government and also by all the Catholic communities, without distinction. He will be a great bishop and a great support for Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian.
Monsignor Jin Luxian was one of the four Chinese prelates invited by the Pope to the Synod: does this mean that he is now considered a legitimate bishop by the Holy See…
McCARRICK: And I’m very happy about that, also because Monsignor Jin is a great friend. I’m certain that in his heart he’s been awaiting this recognition for a long time.
In his statement of October 25 Cardinal Sodano again hoped that the difficulties hampering the setting up of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Beijing would soon be overcome. Are you optimistic about this?
McCARRICK: Yes, I am, one can’t be involved in this area without being so. The Holy See must find the way to approach this great nation which has great importance in the present world and will have an even greater one in the future. On its part, Beijing must get rid of the fear that the Holy See wants to interfere in Chinese politics. When I speak to the Chinese leaders, I always tell them that it is a virtue for Christians to love their own country, that Christians are the most faithful citizens, the citizens on whom all the governments of the world can count to edify their countries in peace, justice and harmony.
On November 19 President George W. Bush will visit China. Do you think that he will intercede with his interlocutors in favor of the Holy See?
McCARRICK: I believe that all the countries that have the grace to have Catholics among their population must have a great interest in supporting diplomatic rapprochement between Beijing and the Holy See. This goes for the United States, but not only. The important thing is to do it with the required delicacy.
Let’s return to your journey to China. Did you also meet members of the Patriotic Association?
McCARRICK: Yes, when I go to China I talk to everyone. I believe that we Catholics, we Catholic bishops, must engage in dialogue with everyone. The Lord Jesus did not exclude anyone.
Did you meet the Bishop of Beijing, Michael Fu Tieshan?
McCARRICK: Yes, I’ve known him for twenty years, as I know many of the other bishops.
What did you talk about?
McCARRICK: I would prefer not to enter into the details of those conversations.
During this visit to China did you celebrate or assist at a mass in a Beijing church?
McCARRICK: No, I preferred to celebrate mass in private, in my hotel room.
However in the column written by you for the Washington diocesan weekly on October 20, you wrote of a mass celebrated in a Church in Beijing during your visit…
McCARRICK: Yes, I wanted to recount to my faithful a couple of episodes from this visit that struck me particularly. The first took place on the morning of October 13. I was having breakfast in the hotel. A friend of mine had already gone out jogging at five-thirty in the morning and, returning, he told me that his route took him by one of the biggest Catholic churches of the capital, belonging to the official community, and not yet in full communion with the Pope, but whose sacraments – I explained to my faithful – are valid. This friend of mine noticed that the lights of the church were on and so, his curiosity aroused, stopped running and went in.
And what did he find?
McCARRICK: The five-thirty mass had just begun and the church, despite its being Thursday, was full. There were old and young and also a group of foreigners. The mass was well sung. My friend was struck by the fact that there were numerous altar boys serving mass on the altar and had the impression of a very lively community full of faith. He was also struck by the fact that during the Eucharistic prayer the name of Benedict XVI was mentioned. In fact even if full communion between the official community and the Holy See has not yet been achieved – and, I repeat, we must pray insistently that this happens soon – the name of the Pope is always remembered in their masses.
That was the first episode. And the second?
McCARRICK: Again, on the morning of Thursday October 13, I was in my hotel room when the maid came to tidy the room. As soon as she saw my pectoral cross, she took it, kissed it and with a happy smile knelt down to receive the blessing. I think she had understood that I was a priest and wanted me to know that she too was a Catholic. I was moved.
Your Eminence, a last question, not on China however. You are Archbishop of Washington, where the Supreme Court of the United States has its seat, which just recently has a new president in the person of Judge John G. Roberts. Do you know him?
McCARRICK: I know him very well. Two days after his nomination was approved by the Senate, he participated along with President Bush at the Red Mass that I celebrated for the beginning of the judicial year in the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Washington. All the papers published photos of the ceremony. Judge Roberts is a good Catholic, I believe he will be a magnificent president of the Supreme Court.

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