Recognizing the Plight of Chinese Catholics

China has been at the forefront of worldwide news for weeks. But China is the focus of the Pope’s monthly prayer intention for a totally different reason.

The Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network prays for and spreads the word about the Holy Father’s monthly prayer intention—intentions that are selected for the year well in advance and long before coronavirus was known to the world. In March 2020, Pope Francis has asked the faithful to pray for Catholics in China.

Catholics in China
We pray that the Church in China may persevere in its faithfulness to the Gospel and grow in unity.

In his monthly video, Pope Francis said, “Today, the Church in China looks to the future with hope. The Church wants Chinese Christians to be truly Christians, and to be good citizens. They should promote the Gospel, but without engaging in proselytism, and they need to achieve the unity of the divided Catholic community.”

The Catholic Church in China has had a difficult relationship with the Chinese government. When the Communist Party of China took over, they drove out all Christian missionaries from the country. In 1957, they created the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association—a state-run church that appointed its own bishops and operated separately from the Catholic Church’s hierarchy and the Holy See.

Amidst decades of control and oppression faced by Catholics in China, many have resisted. “A lot of people in the Church have gone underground so there’s this huge Catholic Church that exists off the radar—it’s in houses and such. And the recent popes have made a great effort of negotiation with the Chinese government to normalize things and get the church back into the fold,” said John Feister, Communications Coordinator at Glenmary Home Missioners.

Today, it is estimated that about half of China’s ten million Catholics worship in unregistered churches, which has caused the division that Pope Francis speaks of. Feister explained that the Chinese government has recently worked to gain control of these underground Church communities, mandating that they register their groups. This also included Protestant Christians in China, said Feister. “There is an attempt by the government to really rein in all of these churches which are disconnected from the government and are more loyal toward the Vatican.”

In September 2018, the Vatican and China signed an agreement that worked towards improving the situation faced by Chinese Catholics. Under the agreement, the Chinese government recognizes the pope as the head of the Catholic Church. The government will still recommend bishops to be appointed, but the pope has the authority to veto them.

Despite the agreement, there is much work to be done and prayers are desperately needed for the Church in China. Persecution and disunity continue and Chinese Catholics need prayers for strength, grace, and perseverance.

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Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.