These days, it’s impossible to view the news without some mention of COVID-19, or as our President has called it, the Kung Flu or the Chinese virus.
There’s something else in China that’s as tragic, if not worse, than this strand of the coronavirus: the merciless persecution of people for their simple wish for religious freedom and to live according to their beliefs, rather than register and be a part of the “open churches” sanctioned and directed by Communist China.
“Underground Church” is a term to refer to when people have to choose between their beliefs and their lives in China and the world. Unfortunately, this phrase is synonymous with persecution.
You can easily find sites online with daily updates on people being persecuted for even simple acts like sharing pamphlets among friends. Since there are so many instances of persecution going on, you can even receive daily news updates by country.
Let’s start at the beginning. You might say that one starting point for the conversation about east-west relations for religious freedom is with Matteo Ricci, who was known for bringing to China Western science as much as his Christian faith. For example, in the last Olympics held in Beijing, one of the event publications showcased Ricci for his diplomatic relations and for bringing knowledge of cartography, clocks, and astronomy to China.
What’s notable was that Ricci’s full name was Fr. Matteo Ricci, SJ. He was a missionary Jesuit priest who loved his new friends in China almost as much as God. He stopped at nothing to join these two loves while respecting the culture and individual freedom in China, as seen in the following testimonials from those who knew him firsthand: “I’m not sure if Ricci made the Chinese Catholic, or if the Chinese made Ricci more Chinese.” And, “He lived as a Chinese, not trying to change China’s culture or force the Chinese to follow Christ.”
Now that’s the way to do it! I get so excited when amazing thought leaders can invite others into true dialogue, start at a common ground, and continue with cordial respect for the other person’s dissident perspective, all in the name of seeking sincerely the ultimate truth.
It makes sense that Ricci’s diplomatic approach was what it took to break down natural barriers between such disparate cultures and social mores between western civilization and the Far East (talk about opposites). That’s how to invite Communist China, or anyone else for that matter, into dialogue -and not racist epithets like Kung Flu – with eyes on greater unity for all, bound by the common good.
Underground church grows under persecution
Today, the Church is still growing in China, North Korea, and other parts of the world where practicing your religious beliefs each day means putting your life and that of your loved ones at risk. Fenggang Yang at Purdue University predicts that by 2030 China will have more Christians than any other country. That’s incredible in light of the government’s efforts at sinicization, forcing communist propaganda in church and harassing church-goers.
In La Cañada, there are more than a dozen places of worship within a walking distance up and down the main drag Foothill Blvd. As religion is a guaranteed right in the USA, religious fervor isn’t fulfilling its full potential. This idea is plausible when you read Paul Mosher’s account of finding God, not in his current So Cal home, but back when the bamboo curtain just started to part in Communist China. Sometimes our faith needs to be shaken up and challenged to come out stronger.
Don’t let Communism fool you
What’s ironic is how many youngish people are looking yearningly to socialism that’s borderline communism. Some say that they might be too young to know firsthand the evils of pre-perestroika USSR. And today’s general misperception of communism as a better alternative to USA’s representative democracy stems from a simplistic textbook notion of communism as a kind of silver bullet utopia.
“Turning Japanese” by the ‘80s band called the Vapors probably won’t get a remake anytime soon. A twist on it would be “I’m turning Communist Chinese, I really think so” when I read about how churches across our country are getting vandalized, how many statues of Jesus and Mary are being decapitated and how many California missions are being burned down. Now how are all the 4th graders going to do their mission project?
Junipero Serra, the namesake of one of these centuries-old monuments, was a founding father of the great American spirit of human equality. In our current times of national identity crisis and political turmoil, I propose (just as Matteo Ricci, Junipero Serra, and others like them) a peaceful unity and not imposing our individual beliefs and rights. I propose a reformation of the heart and returning to our American heritage of human equality.