By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — As part of its academic year series on China, St. Ambrose University hosted a panel presentation Oct. 10 on Catholicism in China featuring three speakers intimately familiar with the issue.
“As a sister Church to our sister Church in China, we want to partner in mission,” said Sister Janet Carroll, a Maryknoll Sister. The fundamental concept of mission is to “befriend the people among whom we are working and to share our faith and Christianity … in the spirit of the Gospel,” Sr. Carroll told a gathering of students, faculty, clergy and lay people.
She helped establish and then directed the U.S. Catholic China Bureau from 1989-2003. An initiative of the Society of Jesus and Maryknoll and with the affirmation of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bureau works to promote understanding among American Catholics about the Catholic Church and the situation of Catholic communities in China.
The panel strove to do its part in promoting understanding. In addition to Sr. Carroll, panelists Father Nick Nguyen, SVD, who serves at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa, and Anne Liou, a registered nurse who serves as a catechist in Seattle, shared unique perspectives.
Sr. Carroll noted that two characters in the Chinese language compose the word “crisis:” danger and opportunity. The danger, she sees, is the Church succumbing to fractionalization in China. The opportunity lies in embracing reform and renewal, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
Christianity arrived in China 1,600 years ago, but it didn’t flower. Missionaries — most notably Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1583) — sought to build a relationship based on mutual respect and deeper understanding. As Sr. Carroll noted, “The Church as an institution must be relevant to the social and political realities of China.”
Liou, a native of Taiwan, also stressed the importance of culture and social practices in the lives of Chinese Catholics. “They’re influenced by their traditions and their beliefs.” She firmly believes “it’s our responsibility to evangelize in China and to spread the faith.”
The Vatican Press office reported in 2009 that six million Catholics were in registered churches while approximately 12 million were in unregistered churches. More than 150 dioceses have been established and about 100 bishops serve in China; several are not recognized by the Vatican. The report lists 3,268 priests, 628 seminarians in major seminary, 630 in minor seminary, and 5,500 Sisters.
In a letter to the Catholic Church in China on Pentecost in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI expressed a desire for the Church to offer “humble and disinterested service in the areas of her competence, for the good of Chinese Catholics and for the good of all the inhabitants of the country.”
Fr. Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, says China’s Catholics envision a brighter future for the Church in their country, especially from the perspective of priests and Sisters. But one of the challenges in China is a declining enrollment in the seminaries. Part of the reason may be attributed to the growing value of affluence, he said.