China’s Modern Martyrs: From Mao to Now (Part 4) | Anthony E. Clark, PhD | Catholic World Report
The blood of martyrs has proven to be the seed of the Church in China, as vibrant communities thrive despite government interference and restrictions.
Part 4, Resurrection
“We should be glad and rejoice. As the Shanghai Catholic youths said: ‘We are greatly honored to have been born and lived at this important time.’” — Cardinal Kung Pin-mei, Sermon for Catholics in China (Rome, June 30, 1991)
When I published my book, China’s Saints, in 2011, I thought that only a few interested scholars would read it. I wrote it, after all, as an academic study, a work for curmudgeonly professors like myself more inclined to read objective history than pious hagiography. So I was surprised when a Jesuit priest mentioned to a large crowd of academics and ecclesiastics recently gathered in Chicago that he had been reading my book “for his daily devotions.”
Results seldom match expectations, and that is the theme of my final entry in this four-part series on China’s Catholic martyrs from Mao to now. In truth, even the most objective historian—secular or religious—must admit that decades of suppression, persecution, and suffering have resulted in a vibrant Catholic community. I shall here outline the “ongoing growth of these communities,” as Father Jeremy Clarke puts it, “even in spite of attempts to make them disappear.”
In the first three installments of this series I focused on a very dark era in the history of Chinese Catholicism: the attack against Yangjiaping Trappist Abbey and the massacre of many holy monks, Chairman Mao’s malicious media campaign against the Church, the wave of arrests that followed, and the atrocious martyrdoms of such priests as Father Beda Chang and Father Wang Shiwei. I have also recounted the Maoist destruction of Catholic churches during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and more recent efforts to suppress popular Catholic devotions in China, such as the annual pilgrimage to honor Our Lady of China at Donglü. No one can deny the genuine suffering that Christians have encountered in China in recent decades, but as St. Augustine famously asserted, “God had a son on earth who was without sin, but he never had one without suffering.”
Still, China’s Christians have an optimistic view of their experiences. Elderly Catholics use the word chiku (吃苦) to describe their lives during the Maoist period (1949-1976), which literally means “having tasted bitterness.” One priest noted, “When we were bombarded with anti-Christian propaganda, we had tasted bitterness. We did not swallow it. We survived.” China’s Catholics have done more than survive; they have flourished. Over the years I have travelled in China by mule, train, plane, boat, taxi, bicycle, and long distances on foot to visit important places in the history of Christianity in China, and each year I am astonished by the unprecedented progress of the Church there.
Bishops, priests, sisters, and common faithful have told me their stories—and so have atheists, agnostics, and party members. In fact, party members have informed me that there are many persons in positions of influence who view religion as a “healthy human expression.”