Italian Journalist Gerolamo Fazzini
ROME, 14 OCT. 2005 (ZENIT)
The Church in China exists among lights and shadows, said an Italian
reporter who recently spent three weeks in the country meeting with
priests, nuns and lay people.
Following his trip, Gerolamo Fazzini, co-editor of Mondo e Missione, of
the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, wrote six reports, on as
many Chinese cities, for the Italian Catholic episcopate's newspaper
In this interview with ZENIT, Fazzini shares his impressions and
assesses some recent events relative to the Church in China. Part 2
Q: How do you see the situation of Christians in China? Does optimism or
Fazzini: It is difficult to make a global evaluation. The readings
oscillate between the optimism of those, such as David Aikman, author of
a much-discussed book, "Jesus in Beijing"
which prophesies a luminous future for Christianity in China, especially
and the pessimism of those who see an uncertain future, even darker than
the present, in light of the fact that the regime does not seem willing
to take steps when it comes to religious rights.
The impression received when visiting China is that the two attitudes,
hope and disillusion, coexist
just as the wheat of the Church's vitality coexists with the weeds of
political control, which makes itself heard at different times and in
but which has not given up the pretension of governing the religious
and the internal tensions in the Christian communities, which are not
Q: In recent weeks there have been two news items reflecting opposite
signs: the government's ban on the participation of four Chinese
bishops, invited to the Synod of Bishops by Benedict XVI, and the
announcement, by the superior of the Missionaries of Charity, that the
government has invited Mother Teresa's religious to go to China,
something long dreamed about by the founder. How should these two
contradictory events be interpreted?
Fazzini: One would have to be in the control room to understand the
internal dynamics of power.
I will restrict myself to observe that such contradictory and enigmatic
signs confirm the fact that something is changing, although it is
difficult to make predictions. Personally, I am confident, given that
the one who directs history is unpredictable.
Q: Regarding Catholics in China, are there really two Churches? What is
the relationship like between them?
Fazzini: It is a known fact that the situation of the Catholic Church
has altogether particular features in China. There are two communities
not two Churches; the Church is the same one, that of Christ.
One is the official community, which makes reference to the Chinese
Catholics' Patriotic Association [CCPA], the other is the improperly
called "underground" Church, which does not recognize the CCPA's
The novelty in recent times is that, on both sides, there are those who
are working for reconciliation, to overcome the impasse. Not, of course,
by putting a headstone on the past or forgetting the many martyrs of
yesterday and today, but by seeking at the same time to emerge from a
situation that risks fossilization.
Although it is true that the "underground" community is the most
scourged by persecution, it must not be thought that for the official
community the situation is rose-colored. The latter also suffers
limitations in its activity, as is the case of any religious presence in
In fact, in different ways, penury of means, lack of personnel,
difficulties in resisting the speed of changes of the age, which China
is going through, are elements that unite the faithful of the two
Beyond this, I have been able to appreciate in both communities a great
desire for reconciliation and unity, despite the internal difficulties
that afflict different dioceses. An agreeable surprise for me was to see
members of the official community express a great affection for the
Pope, and a strong love for the universal Church.
Q: In your trip to China, what impressed you most about the consecrated
life of the Church?
Fazzini: The situation of women religious impressed me. Because there is
virtually no talk about them yet, they are discreet and humble, but
living a pledge.
I met them in Xian, in Shanghai, in Beijing, including some nuns of the
region of Hebei, which is to a degree the bastion of the "underground"
They wear their habits only for solemn religious celebrations; usually
they wear normal, simple clothes; they could easily be confused with the
local women. It is known that women religious in China cannot belong to
any international order or congregation.
They all refer to a diocesan institution and depend on the local bishop.
Many of them are young, they have great faith but often an inadequate
Interview With Italian Journalist Gerolamo Fazzini
ROME, 16 OCT. 2005 (ZENIT)
A major challenge for the Church in China is to educate the youth in
the faith, says an Italian reporter who recently spent three weeks in
Following his trip, Gerolamo Fazzini, co-editor of Mondo e Missione, of
the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, wrote six reports for the
Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire.
In this interview with ZENIT, Fazzini shares his impressions of recent
events relative to the Church in China. Part 1 of this interview
Q: What is the most problematic aspect that the Catholic Church faces in
Fazzini: It is difficult to say. One of the fundamental points is the
formation of the clergy and of women religious. The long persecution of
the past decades has caused enormous damages. There is an entire
generation of bishops and priests missing. It is easy to imagine what
this means in terms of formation.
Such a question is part of a more general problem which we could define
in the implementation of the Second Vatican Council in ordinary pastoral
praxis. Young people, who in the span of a few years will take the reins
of the Church in China, will be one of the crucial challenges for the
Q: China is changing at an impressive rate. Can the Church cope with the
speed of change, meet the challenges that arise, and proclaim Christ to
the younger generations?
Fazzini: Yes and no. In the large cities
am thinking, for example, of Shanghai and Beijing
there is no lack of committed bishops, priests and lay people who have
the necessary preparation to address the volume of challenges that are
at hand. Some have studied abroad; they are able to relate to the new
But many others exhaust themselves trying to make sense of the world
around us, for lack of adequate instruments. Going from the cities to
the countryside, for example, one notes, just by looking at the Church's
iconography, the profound chasm that separates the urban reality from
The majority of lay Chinese live in rural areas, but the future will be
decided increasingly in the cities. In the future, will Christianity be
able to speak to the increasingly modern Chinese people? Beyond the
problems connected to the public context, this seems to be the greatest
challenge for the Church in China.
Q: Could you comment on the unbalanced social inequalities that exist
alongside the spectacular economic development in China?
Fazzini: Indeed. Traveling through China, even only for a few weeks, as
was my case, one perceives this difference. Next to the class of those
who are outstanding, who are perfectly integrated in the international
economic circuit, is the mass of the population, especially rural, that
lives in conditions of poverty, without adequate social services.
The authorities perceive this situation: President Hu Jintao said that
economic growth must go at the same pace as the struggle against
disparity between the richer coastal provinces and regions of the
interior, extremely poor.
Because of this, the Chinese Communist Party is about to launch a
five-year plan to build a "more harmonious and stable" society. We'll
What is positive is the novelty that the government is realizing that it
cannot guarantee a minimum level of welfare to the population and,
therefore, little by little is making possible room for action, limited
but real, for the NGOs. We are far from subsidiarity as we understand
it, but, in any case, it is a positive sign.
Q: Often terrible news comes from China relative to the practices of
"demographic control": abortions on a large scale, infanticide and
forced sterilizations. What can citizens of Western countries do to help
China check these phenomena?
Fazzini: That China has a problem of demographic control is plain for
everyone to see. It is not enough to affirm it theoretically. When one
sees the megalopolis brimming with crowds, the metropolises full to the
point of disbelief, one then intuits the extent of the problem. What to
One can, for example, help China to identify the most appropriate ways
to educate in responsible paternity and maternity. Political fantasy?
Not really. Experimental programs of the Billings [Ovulation] Method [of
natural family planning] was introduced successfully two years ago in
some areas. Why not support its extension on a large scale, accompanying
it with a campaign of education of young people?
Sadly, and mistakenly, I do not think that Western governments, in the
main pro-abortion, will support this solution. Another interesting path
that is opening, as regards Italy, is the international adoption of
Q: What can Christians do?
Fazzini: First, pray. If God is the one who moves history, he must be
asked with insistence for the necessary help for our Chinese brothers
and sisters. The Church in China, moreover, feels very comforted in
knowing that sister Churches don't forget her.
Second, it is important to get involved, to know what is available: The
instruments are not lacking, from Catholic agencies, such as ZENIT and
AsiaNews to specialized reviews such as Mondo e Missione.
Fundamental, in my opinion, is the background strategy. It is necessary
to express the greatest "liking" for the Chinese people, for their very
rich and ancient culture, and at the same time to make it "pressing" for
the authorities to change what is against human rights.
Finally, I think one must also contribute financially to support the
Church in China.