The Sino-Vatican agreement has been praised for “normalizing” the situation of bishops in China, but for China’s Catholics in the pews this “normalization” has engendered more acrimony than accord.
China’s Catholics have celebrated Christmas in Beijing since the first church was built there in 1299 by the Franciscan friar John of Montecorvino (1247-1348). Since that time the Church there has both enjoyed eras of acceptance and endured periods of persecution.
When I first lived in China during the 1990s, churches were largely closed to foreigners. In the year following I have witnessed an astonishing growth of Christianity within the Great Wall, and over the decades I have attended Holy Mass in most of China’s provinces and met many of its bishops, priests, sisters, and lay faithful. Sadly, China is now closed to visitors, and the only direct news I hear of the Church there is through emails from China’s clergy or from the Chinese relatives of Christians still living where the world used to call “behind the bamboo curtain.”
A quick internet search summons reports on the terrible treatment of Cardinal Joseph Zen in Hong Kong, the renewed and re-renewed agreements between the Holy See and China’s Communist government, and the pope’s recent announcement that Matteo Ricci is one step closer to canonization. But the internet cannot tell everything. As I write these remarks at the end of 2022, Beijing’s soaring cathedral is decorated for the Feast of the Nativity, the diminishing number of China’s seminarians are learning how to offer Christmas Mass, and Catholic parents are teaching their children the meaning of Christ’s birth, while those under eighteen are forbidden from attending services.
Christians in the People’s Republic of China are accustomed to the vicissitudes of political support and repression, and now as Christmas approaches they are preparing to Ba Yesu fang zai ying’er chuangshang (把耶穌放在嬰兒床上; “put Jesus in His crib”), despite being targeted and oppressed. In China’s more popular cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, churches remain open for the Holidays, while in many remote areas churches are forced to limit their celebrations to “more Chinese” events.Christmas and China at the end of 2022 – Catholic World Report