China: Notes from the Underground

Chinese Roman Catholics tell the world about their struggle to survive, their loyalty to the Holy See, and their determination to promote the unity of the Church. And Catholic Exchange announces a collaboration with this group to publish Catholic Scripture Study and other material in Chinese!

Getting the Word Out

(Editor's Note: This is the first in a 5-part series of articles that will take you behind the scenes into the lives and struggles of our Chinese brothers and sisters. Please read their letter to you.)

An organization of dedicated Chinese Catholic laymen has embarked on a new project to defend the “underground Church” loyal to Rome, to bring news of the Chinese Catholic Church to the attention of the outside world, and to rally the faithful of mainland China — accomplishing these tasks through the use of the internet.

The new group, Chinese Roman Catholic Laymen (CRCL), has been established with the blessing of a bishop associated with the Chinese underground Church. But the effort is organized and directed by independent laymen. To shield the project from government interference, the group's internet site — — is hosted by an American colleague.

The following report, drawn heavily from the CRCL web site, conveys a picture of life in the underground Catholic Church. To protect the organizers of the CRCL campaign from possible reprisals, we will not identify our correspondent on mainland China, nor the bishop who has encouraged the effort. Individual members of the underground Church — including our correspondent, “Pan Zhen” — are identified below with pseudonyms.

Material on the CRCL web site is written in Chinese, to reach the Catholic population in China itself. However, rough English-language translations of the material are also available. Among its stated objectives, the CRCL web site mentions a determination to give the outside world clear and accurate information about the activities of — and the difficulties facing — the underground Church in China.

The Appeals

Chinese Roman Catholic Laymen, in launching its internet site, called upon the Beijing government to ease restrictions on the Church. The group cites the changes in Chinese society over the past generation, and suggests that the government's policy of maintaining strict controls on Catholic activity, through the “Patriotic Catholic Association,” is now both outmoded and unnecessary. Catholics can be loyal to Rome and yet remain patriotic Chinese citizens, the group insists.

At the same time, CRCL appeals to Catholics who are affiliated with the Patriotic Association, urging them to join with the underground Church and restore the unity of the faith in China. The web site acknowledges that some members of the Patriotic Association have quietly given their support and assistance to the underground Church, but observes that other Patriotic Church leaders have engaged in vicious criticism of the Holy See and of their fellow Chinese Catholics.

“The Chinese Roman Catholic Church is the only legal branch in China of the Roman Catholic Church handed down by the apostles,” the CRCL web site proclaims. And the group expresses confidence that despite current repression, the loyal Church will survive, and the Catholic faith will remain intact. “From the time when Father Matteo Ricci brought the Gospel to China in 1582, the Holy Church began to take root and germinated in the earth of China,” the web site says. “For hundreds of years the Chinese Roman Catholic Church has experienced many hardships, but she has never withered away. She is always closely united with the Pope, our Holy Father.”

To faithful Catholics in China, CRCL issues a plea for prayer and for material help. Citing the growth of “paganism” in China, and the influence of hedonism, the group calls for a campaign of “Defensive Co-Prayer” among Catholics. “Crime, abortion, divorce, adultery, prostitution and homosexuality are increasing rapidly,” the group reports, and the country needs prayer to reverse the trend. CRCL also asks faithful Catholics to pray the Rosary every day for the welfare and unity of the Church.

Historical Perspective

In explaining the current situation facing the Catholic Church, CRCL points out that Chinese Catholicism was united prior to the Communist takeover in 1949. As the Communist government sought to eliminate all ideological opposition, the Catholic Church was persecuted, and eventually the “Catholic Patriotic Association” was set up under the aegis of the government. Today, Catholics who persist in their loyalty to the Holy See worship in secret, often subjected to government harassment.

Ironically, CRCL points out, the loyal Catholic leaders of China were either imprisoned or underground in the late 1960s, when the Cultural Revolution swept through the country. Consequently it was the leaders of the Patriotic Church who bore the brunt of that campaign.

In recent years, however, the Beijing government has allowed greater freedom and autonomy for the Chinese people, CRCL observes. In a message to government leaders, the web site remarks that “China has seen world-shaking changes, and its economy has developed so rapidly that the world's attention is now focused on the reformation and opening of the country.” As one part of that reform, the group suggests, “We hope that the government will establish more dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church in China, in order to increase understanding and eliminate misunderstandings.” The “underground Church” leaders insist that they have no designs to subvert the Beijing government. “The Roman Catholic Church values the power of the government and the sovereignty of the country,” the web site announces. The group testifies that loyal Catholics are also loyal and productive citizens. And the web site concludes its discussion of political affairs with a frank statement: “We genuinely hope to see China and the Vatican establish diplomatic relations in the near future.”

While avoiding any direct criticism of the Patriotic Association, and emphasizing the need for unity among the Catholics of China, the CRCL web site is unflinching in its support for the underground Church and its loyalty to the Holy See. CRCL urges the faithful “to pray for the Catholics who do not have substantial communion with the Pope, in order to make them return to the Church as soon as possible.”

“The person who does not have communion with the Pope is not Catholic,” CRCL boldly states; “and the Church that does not have communion with the Pope is not the Catholic Church.”

This article originally appeared in Catholic World Report and is adapted with permission.

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