The World

New impetus for cooperation between the Church in China and the Vatican

Four bishops of the People's Republic of China have resumed the path of fraternal cooperation among the Churches, abruptly interrupted by the pandemic, by participating in a week-long mission to Belgium, Holland and France.

Antonino Piccione-September 19, 2023-Reading time: 3 minutes


Joseph Guo Jincai, bishop of the diocese of Chengde and recently appointed rector of the Beijing National Seminary; Paul Pei Junmin, bishop of the diocese of Shenyang; Joseph Liu Xinhong, bishop of the province of Anhui and Joseph Cui Qingqi, bishop of Wuhan; and Father Ding Yang, priest of the diocese of Chongqing: these are the four bishops of the People's Republic of China who have resumed the path of fraternal cooperation between the Churches, abruptly interrupted by the pandemic, by participating in a week-long mission in Belgium, Holland and France.

At a time of considerable geopolitical tensions, in the same days in which Cardinal Matteo Zuppi traveled to Beijing to meet with the representative for Eurasian affairs Li Hui. The topics discussed, as is well known, focused on the war in Ukraine and the dramatic social and economic upheavals that followed. Both the Holy See and China agreed on the "need to join efforts to foster dialogue and find ways that lead to peace." Space was also devoted to the issue of food security, calling for the restoration of grain exports to the most threatened countries.

Since 2018, the Holy See has been trying to weave a climate of trust with China. On the occasion of his recent trip to Mongolia, Pope Francis affirmed "that governments and lay institutions have nothing to fear from the Church's evangelizing action, because the Church has no political agenda to pursue."

The Agreement on the Appointment of Chinese Bishops signed in 2018 and renewed twice, in 2020 and 2022, should be read in this sense. That is, in a search for harmony and shared choices, capable of enabling the Church to fully carry out its evangelizing mission.

It is in this context that we can situate and interpret the initiative of the four Chinese bishops, born at the invitation of the Ferdinand Verbiest Foundation of Louvain, Belgium. A foundation created in 1982 by the Chinese Province of the CICM Missionaries (Scheut). Academic research, cultural exchange, dialogue and cooperation between the Churches are the four pillars of its mission to promote dialogue and cultural exchange with China and the Catholic Church in China. The Foundation conducts joint academic research with institutes in China and Belgium.

It cooperates with the Church in China in a spirit of Christian brotherhood and communion between the particular Churches. In addition, in cooperation with the Church in China, the foundation offers training for church ministers through seminary teaching, scholarships and pastoral and social engagement.

This is not the first time that a group of Chinese bishops has visited Belgium. Already in 2019, favored by the then recent agreement between the Holy See and China for the appointment of bishops, a group of five Chinese bishops had visited Belgium, also at the behest of the Verbiest Foundation. A visit propitiated by the circumstance of the participation of two Chinese bishops in the Synod on Youth at the Vatican in 2018. Scheut's fathers are among the greatest architects of dialogue with the East: the first missionaries in Mongolia after seventy years of socialism.

The Chinese delegation, according to Fides, arrived in Leuven on September 7, received by Father Jeroom Heyndrickx (CICM), other members of the foundation and the Catholic University of Leuven which deals with Chinese studies. During their stay, the four bishops gave a training course in Chinese for priests, religious and lay Catholics from China.

The bishops also attended meetings at the Verbiest Foundation and the Chinese College to explore new ways to revive exchanges and formation courses in cooperation with Chinese dioceses. In addition, the Chinese bishops were received by Cardinal Jozef De Kesel, President of the Belgian Episcopal Conference and Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, as well as President of the same Foundation, to whom they presented the proposals for collaboration agreed with the Verbiest Foundation.

After visiting the Parc Abbey of the Norbertine Fathers in Heverlee, one of the oldest abbeys in Belgium, and Tournai, one of the oldest dioceses in Belgium, the Chinese bishops made a brief stop in the Netherlands, at the motherhouse of the SVD SVD missionaries in Steyl. In Broekhuizenvorst they paid homage to the nine martyrs: Vincentian Bishop Schraven and his companions. They also met with Jan Hendriks, Bishop of Haarlem-Amsterdam, and discussed with him the 15th International Verbiest Conference, to be held in 2024, to which Chinese Catholic scholars will also be invited.

From September 12 to 15, the Chinese bishops continued their visit to France, meeting with missionaries of the Paris Foreign Mission Society.

The authorAntonino Piccione

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