At one stage, for instance, Bishop John Baptist Yang Xiaoting, who serves as the coadjutor bishop of Yan’an, and who was ordained in 2010 with both government and Vatican approval, seemed almost dismissive of fellow priests who request political asylum in foreign countries on the basis of claims of religious persecution.
“When I came to study in Italy in 1993, people asked me, do you belong to the underground church or the open church? Are you a real priest, or not a real priest? If you’re real, how can you come out of China? They thought if you were a real priest, you couldn’t leave China because of the registration system,” said Xiaoting, who studied at Rome’s Urbaniana University, which serves seminarians from mission countries around the world.
“I would tell them, ‘I belong to the Church from St. Peter,’” Xiaoting said.
“When I was in the States, I encountered many cases in which priests wanted to stay, to get a green card, and so they would seek the status of political asylum,” the 54-year-old prelate said. “If I had wanted to stay, I could have sought political asylum and claimed persecution.”
“But I love my country and I love my Church, and I want to serve my Church and my country,” Xiaoting said, adding: “What we hear outside China, and the situation inside, are often two very different things.”
Speaking during a panel session Friday morning, Xiaoting added that Beijing “is promoting a very precise plan to help the poor, which poses no contradiction at all with our teaching and also our practice,” and that Chinese President Xi Jinping “promotes the concept of a common human destiny, which is similar to our concepts, emphasizing the common good and the welfare of all.”
Far from an implacable enemy of the faith, in other words, the Chinese government as presented by Xiaoting seemed an essentially neutral, even benevolent, arbiter of social life vis-à-vis the country’s various religious bodies.
His line echoed that of Cardinal John Tong Hon, the former bishop of Hong Kong, who in an interview with Crux’s Claire Giangravé on Thursday said, “If you have a really far-sighted vision of China, I think that you will find that China is more open, civilized and close to the outside world.”