“We can understand that in the enthusiasm of wanting an agreement between China and the Vatican, Chinese culture, Chinese people and Chinese mentality are exaggerated and exalted, as Pope Francis does. But presenting China as a model…”
It is a dumbfounded Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, director of the agency Asia News of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, who comments on the judgments of Argentine bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, just back from a trip to China.
Sánchez Sorondo is the chancellor of two pontifical academies, that of sciences and that of social sciences, as well as a diligent lackey of the court of Pope Francis. And in effect there has been astonishment over the he extravagant praises that he lavished on the regime of Beijing in an interview a few days ago for the Spanish-language section of Vatican Insider:
Here are a few selections from them:
“At this time, those who are the best at putting the Church’s social doctrine into practice are the Chinese.”
“The economy does not dominate politics, as happens in the United States. Free-market thinking has obliterated the concept of the common good, it states that this is an empty idea, but the Chinese seek the common good, they subordinate things to the general good. I have been assured of this by Stefano Zamagni, a traditional economist respected for some time, by all the popes.”
“I encountered an extraordinary China. What people do not know is that the central Chinese principle is: work, work, work. This is nothing other, at bottom, than what St. Paul said: he who does not work should not eat.”
“There are no ‘villas miserias,’ no drugs, the young people do not take drugs. There is a positive national conscience. The Chinese have a moral quality that is not found anywhere else.”
“The pope loves the Chinese people, he loves their history. There are many points of contact right now. One cannot think that today’s China is that of the time of John Paul II or of Russia during the cold war.”
Needless to say, his trip to China has made Sánchez Sorondo an enthusiast. Such an enthusiast as to send the memory back a half century ago, to the travel diaries of the many famous intellectuals, writers, churchmen who went to China at the end of the Cultural Revolution, a terrifying, fanatical, bloody season which they nevertheless admired and exalted as the birth of a virtuous new humanity.
What is presented below is a representative extract from that infatuated diarism of the early seventies. Its authors were two Italian Catholics of the highest caliber: Raniero La Valle (b. 1931), former director of the Catholic newspaper of Bologna, “L’Avvenire d’Italia,” as well as a celebrated chronicler of the Second Vatican Council, and Gianpaolo Meucci (1919-1986), a disciple of Fr. Lorenzo Milani and president of the juvenile justice court in Florence.
They made the journey that they recount in 1973, between the bloodiest phase of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1969) and the death of Mao Zedong (1976).
In re-reading this exaltation of Chinese society that they present, it is striking how similar it is to what Bishop Sánchez Sorondo is saying today.
Also with regard to the Chinese Church of yesterday and today, the judgments of the one and the other are not so different. What they dream of is a Church that is not “foreign” but “sinicized,” which is precisely what is wanted – in their own way – by the current leaders of Beijing: a Church submissive in everything to their power.
But before giving the floor to this diary of half a century ago, it is appropriate to make a clarification on Professor Zamagni, whom Sánchez Sorondo cites in his own support.
Nothing could be more wrong. Zamagni, a world-renowned economist, former dean of the faculty of economics at the University of Bologna, interviewed by the online newspaper of his city, Rimini, did not want to comment on the words of the bishop, but a couple of his quotes are enough to show how far at the polar opposite he places himself.
In 2015 he said in an interview with “Famiglia cristiana”: “China believed it could go against nature. This this is the Chinese evil. Beijing adopted the model of the capitalist market economy within a dictatorial communist system with a single Marxist-Maoist party. Even the most naive knows that this is a marriage not to be made.”
A year ago, in “Avvenire,” he denounced “the ever deeper separation between market capitalism and democracy.” And last November, in a conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, he reiterated: “The capitalist market economy has always been seen as balanced by democracy, through the ‘welfare state.’ But the novelty of these times is that this connection has been broken: one can be capitalist without being democratic.” Both times he said: “The textbook example is that of China.”
It is urgent to get back to reality.
by Gianpaolo Meucci and Raniero La Valle
[From “Incontro con la Cina”, Libreria Editrice Fiorentina, Florence, 1973, pp. 70-73]
Chinese society is full of vivacity, joy, serenity. During a monthlong stay in China there has never been even the most fleeting impression of the existence of a domineering police power. Even the guards at the government building, who try in every way to give themselves a martial air, appear almost ridiculous when compared with their counterparts in the West, such that in comparison with them our rookie soldiers guarding the barracks or monuments look like Nazis.
China is a country governed not by a law, but by adherence to a faith, under the guidance of a priestly structure that has not yet become estranged from the masses, a joyful and liberating faith that even includes a carnival, the days of the lunar new year, in which above all the peasants dig into their savings and spend considerable sums relative to the income that is kindly provided by the municipalities themselves.
This is why the Chinese experience leaves an indelible mark on every visitor who suddenly finds himself living in a world he has dreamed of, in a society of men committed to joyfully freeing man, driven by faith in man.
But we would like to add a few notes about the meeting we had with the Catholic Church in Beijing, to find a key of interpretation for the Chinese reality.
It was Sunday, and we asked to be put in a position to attend Mass at the Catholic church of Nam-Dang, which had been reopened for worship after a brief period of closure during the years of the Cultural Revolution.
What could have been an experience full of meaning and hope was in reality the most painful and mortifying of all the experiences of our long journey.
We all shared the same conclusive judgment: it is good, it is fitting that a Church of this kind should disappear, if the desire is that the proclamation of the Gospel message should some day reach the Chinese people and open it to another dimension.
The church of Nam-Dang is the monument of the colonialist mentality that for centuries has polluted the missionary action of the Church, accepted by most and challenged by few enlightened spirits.
Think of a church from the late baroque period of old Rome, transplanted to Beijing with its Sacred Heart, the usual statue of Our Lady on the high altar, a few saints, including a Saint Rita of the present-day devotion in Italy.
The priest who says Mass is old, just as the seven Chinese present are old. He mumbles the mass in Latin, facing the altar.
After Mass we talk to a younger priest, while we are not allowed to interview the bishop who, we are told, lives within the complex of that church.
We carefully avoid any question with political nuances, but we insist on questions relating to the religiosity of the Chinese people.
The priest, who is holding the “Pars aestiva” of the breviary, with the style of a Roman seminarian style of the 1920’s, does not respond to what he is asked. He is a stranger to his people, and is content to adhere formally to schemes that have been taught to him with a colonialist mentality and intentions.
We repeatedly, also on other occasions, tried to turn the conversation to the religiosity of the Chinese people and to religious freedom. We are convinced that it was not done to mask a real anti-religious attitude, that the answers were evaded. Christianity was the religion of the master and the of colonialist powers, and they fought it in the people of its ministers, citizens of the occupying countries; but the Chinese constitution admits religious freedom.
What Rome’s attitude toward the Chinese bishops may be in the future seems of little interest to us.
(English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.)