Guest Columnists

The Suffering Church in China

by Msgr. John Vesey

In preparation for Pentecost, I went to Sunday Mass in the cathedral church where I had ministered in northeast China. At 6:30 a.m., I participated in the early morning Mass with about 300 people. I was shocked to find the leader of the song was the man that the Religious Affairs Bureau had placed in the bishop’s office as the receptionist. His responsibility had been to “care for” and inform public security on the daily life of the bishop. There on Sunday morning, he was leading the community in song and prayer. 

After Mass, I went for breakfast and returned for the 9 a.m. Mass to see if I could meet some of my former parishioners at Mass. When I got to the entrance of the cathedral, there was a security guard posted by the local government at the main door and when I tried to go into Mass, he told me I could not go in because I was a foreigner. There are new rules for present-day church life in some parts of China. 

The day before I was invited to observe the catechetical training program that was going on for the diocese. The diocese is as large as New York State. There are 14 cities with a population of over 1.5 million people, and the largest city has 8.5 million people. In all, the diocese has a population of 45 million people served by 65 priests and volunteer lay pastoral ministers. Almost half the parishes have religious sisters serving the communities. 

To better understand the responsibility of these catechists, it is important to realize that in the present moment, the new government legislation prohibits anyone under 18 years of age from entering the Church. If the authorities find anyone under 18 in Church, their parents are arrested. 

One outstanding problem with the catechetical program is the painful response of some pastors. A few pastors who have sent catechists for the formation course have decided not to permit them to exercise their catechetical ministry even though they have finished the catechetical formation program. Pastors do not want to be seen as being untrustworthy in the eyes of the local authorities. 

Another outstanding pastoral problem occurs when a family wants to baptize a newly born child or a child who has not yet been baptized. Because of the government restrictions the child cannot be taken to church for baptism. In some cases, the priest will not be able to go to the home to do the baptism. What happens? Some layperson, a parish leader or the catechist, quietly and secretly will do the baptism. 

A practical political problem that often influences pastors’ decisions is that all public activities and services in the churches require the permission of local authorities. If one has good relations with the authorities, one receives the needed permissions for parish events, construction of parish facilities, etc. If the priest is seen as indifferent or disrespectful of the local authorities, then the local parish is severely restricted in what it will be able to do. 

Fear has become a paralyzing motivation in their lives. Even with this tension and suffering, the Church continues to grow and with hope celebrated the ordination of two young priests on the Feast of St. Mark, on April 25 of this year. 

To celebrate 2025 Jubilee of Hope, the Bishop is planning to write a pastoral letter asking every parish to pray in this Year of Preparation for the Jubilee Year and give him one vocation for the seminary for the next five years. In his meetings with the catechists, the Bishop is asking every catechist to form a loosely connected vocation committee that will pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. 

Because of the large distances between the families in rural China, the Bishop is asking each family to say the Rosary so that God blesses each family with a vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. 

Though some may feel that it does not rain enough in this desert experience, the Church here continues to confide in the influence of the Holy Spirit as she continues to hope as it struggles to be faithful to Jesus. 

The Church here continues to confide in the influence of the Holy Spirit as it continues to hope as it struggles to be faithful to Jesus. 

Msgr. John Vesey is a retired priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn, but he still serves at Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, Jamaica