Valentine’s Day in China

Happy Valentine’s Day! Many Chinese are adopting Western  cultural practices, and that includes Valentine’s Day. On the blog at UCA News, an Asian church news agency, writer Teresa Wang looks at how young people especially are celebrating Valentine’s Day, and she offers to alternative dates to celebrate love.

Mission Bangladesh: Visiting the country’s minority Catholics

Oblate Father Andrew Small, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, visits with Catholics in Banglasesh. Photo by Rock Ronald Rozario / UCA News

Did you know there are Catholics in Bangladesh?

Oblate Father Andrew Small, head of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, won’t get to visit all 344,000 Catholics, but he is visiting as many as he can during a weeklong visit to the predominantly Muslim Asian nation.

You can read about Father Small’s visit here, on the special site set up with coverage from our friends at UCA News.

One thing is clear: Chinese Catholics need prayers

After traveling to China in 2007, I came away having learned two important lessons: 1) Nothing is as it seems. 2) The more you learn, the more you realize what you do not know.

A Chinese security officer watches as Catholics pray at an altar during a 2008 pilgrimage in honor of Mary at the Sheshan shrine on the outskirts of Shanghai, China. (CNS/ Reuters)

This does not apply just to China, but to the Chinese Catholic Church, which, on one level, is locked in a battle with the Chinese government: church autonomy vs. government control.

Reports coming from China might indicate that Chinese Catholic leaders are caving in to government officials. For instance, last December the Asian church news agency UCA News reported on the Congress of Catholic Representatives, which some church leaders were forced to attend. The Vatican was critical of the assembly on many levels, including that Vatican-approved bishops were among officials elected to the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China and the Catholic Patriotic Association, two bodies Pope Benedict XVI has said are not in line with church teaching.

Yet in that same 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics in which Pope Benedict criticized the two government-backed bodies, he said he recognized the difficult situation of bishops and priests under pressure from the government and added that the Holy See “leaves the decision to the individual bishop,” having consulted his priests, “to weigh … and to evaluate the possible consequences” of dealing with government pressures in each given situation.

In mid-July, the Vatican condemned the ordination of Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop of Shantou and said he automatically incurred excommunication. The Vatican said Father Huang “had been informed some time ago that he could not be approved by the Holy See as an episcopal candidate, inasmuch as the Diocese of Shantou already has a legitimate bishop.”

And today UCA News is reporting that the Shantou Diocese has three new priests. The report cites a source, unnamed, as saying that Father Huang might have struck a deal with a neighboring bishop to allow the seminarians to be ordained: Father Huang is still seen by the government as bishop of Shantou, yet he probably recognized the needs of the seminarians who had spent years studying to be priests, so he allowed them to be ordained by a Vatican-approved bishop.

Bishop Paul Pei Junmin (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Meanwhile, online speculation has considered the circumstances of Bishop Paul Pei Junmin of Liaoning, whom China says was suspended from his posts as vice president of the Chinese bishops’ conference and as head of the Liaoning branch of the patriotic association for refusing to participate in Father Huang’s episcopal ordination.

Bishop Pei, who has Vatican approval, is rumored to have resigned from his posts, and some speculate that the Chinese government announced his suspension to save face. Some reports have said he is under house arrest.

What exactly is going on remains unclear, and those who do know are reluctant to speak for fear of repercussions. What IS clear is that, as they navigate the minefields of church leadership in China, the young church leaders continue to need the prayers of Catholics around the world.

Don’t stop the presses yet, says columnist

Writing for our friends UCA News in Asia, Maryknoll Father William Grimm writes about the future of Catholic journalism. In an editorial titled “Don’t stop the presses — yet,” Father Grimm writes that the electronic age is upon us, and “every editor’s desk should have on it a picture of a tombstone with the name of his or her publication on it.”

“The demise of the Catholic press is inevitable,” he writes, “but, at least in Asia, it may still be a bit early to make funeral arrangements.”

However, he notes, “the role of Catholic journalism shall remain, even though the mode of delivery will change.” Read the full column here.

New Web site focuses on human trafficking in Asia

The Asian church news agency UCA News reported recently about a new Web site for anti-trafficking activists, law enforcement officials, trafficking victims and others.

Human Trafficking in Asia has investigative reports on human trafficking and its own blog. The site receives funding assistance from at least two U.S. government agencies and an American nongovernmental organization.

Emmanuel Drewery of the Catholic organization PREDA welcomed the Web site.  PREDA, founded in the Phillippines by Irish Columban Father Shay Cullen, works to help abused children and exploited women.

Drewery told UCA News that such initiatives on the Internet are important because that is where predators are prevalent.

Police pound journalist in Vietnam

Not too long after we posted a story about a controversial property dispute between the church and the Vietnamese government, we got notification that a reporter from The Associated Press was beaten by police while trying to cover the situation in Hanoi.

Ben Stoking, the Hanoi bureau chief for AP, “was punched, choked and hit over the head with a camera by police who detained him” today while he was covering a Catholic prayer vigil and demonstration, AP reported. He was released two-and-a-half hours later and required four stitches in his head.

Catholics were protesting the Vietnamese government’s move to build a garden and library on the grounds of the former nunciature, which Catholics have been saying should be returned to the church. Redemptorist priests who run a nearby parish sent the alert to Catholic news agencies, including the Asian church’s UCA News.

Vietnam’s record on religious freedom has been inconsistent and spotty. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom released a report on this late last month.

Catholic Biblical Federation makes China a priority

Amid continued unsubstantiated rumors about lack of Bibles in China, a commentary by the Asian church news agency UCA News sheds some light on the use of the Bible on the mainland. The commentary by Cecilia Chui, Northeast Asia subregional coordinator for the Catholic Biblical Federation, speaks of how the federation, at its recent meeting in Tanzania, made biblical pastoral ministry in mainland China a priority.

“To continue developing the biblical pastoral ministry in China, we have an idea to form a network to associate mainland Chinese who have undertaken biblical studies abroad,” she says. Read her commentary here.

UCA News on World Youth Day

In addition to the links provided here yesterday on additional material for World Youth Day, our friends at the Asian church news agency UCA News also have a special WYD page of their own. Currently at the top of the page is a story about how two Filipino youths used the proceeds from collecting empty plastic bottles to finance their trip to Sydney.

New look for UCA News

Our friends at UCA News, an Asian church news agency, have redesigned their Web site; check it out! Be  patient, it is still a little slow loading. The new site features photos prominently and you can register for free access to thumnail images.

UCAN not only publishes in English, but also Chinese — simplified and traditional, Indonesian, Korean, Russian, Vietnamese, Cebuano and Tamil.

Year of the Rat

As Chinese, including Catholics, get ready to celebrate the Year of the Rat, Annie Lam, head of the China office for the Asian church news agency UCA News, talks about the impact the country’s heavy snowstorms have had on the lunar new year.

Pedestrians pass Sacred Heart Cathedral in Shenyang, China, last March after a heavy snowstorm. Now an open and functioning cathedral, it was among the churches forced to close during the Cultural Revolution. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)CNS photo editor Nancy Wiechec and I were in Beijing last March for the fireworks ending Chinese new year celebrations, which often stretch for weeks. When we visited the Great Wall, we were surprised to see snow on the steps, but the city of Shenyang got hit with more than a foot of snow. After hours of delays, when we finally reached the airport in Shenyang, it was astounding to see the limited amount of snow removal equipment and the drifting. People were trying to clear some of the large runways with shovels.

When we drove from Shenyang to Fushun, there was a little less snow, but very cold temperatures and lack of central heating meant the nuns in the Sisters of the Sacred Heart convent there wore sweatpants and down jackets under their habits.

Everywhere we went in China, we heard of the importance of the lunar new year to families and how people would travel for days to be with their loved ones. So as the Year of the Rat begins, our hearts go out to those stranded in airports, train and bus stations, and we commend those Chinese Catholics who are sacrificing to try to help those affected by the heavy snows.

PHOTO: Pedestrians pass Sacred Heart Cathedral in Shenyang, China, last March after a heavy snowstorm. Now an open and functioning cathedral, it was among the churches forced to close during the Cultural Revolution. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

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