UCAN NEWS REPORT: A few days ago Father Joseph, an underground priest in China, took the time to talk to me about his life and the things that worry him.
It cannot be said that every underground priest in China faces the same challenges as he does, because the nation is too large and too diverse to make any sort of “one size fits all” statement.
Even so, I think his situation reflects a lot of the problems that Chinese Catholics – and indeed Chinese society – are facing. Many of us really are at a crossroads.
And I’m sure you’ll agree that his own story is moving and even inspiring.
Here it is:
“I was called by God when I was young to become a priest. But I am different from some other clergy because I am a priest who belongs to the underground community of the Church in China.We are sure you will join us in wishing Father Joseph the very best and hoping his prayers will be answered.
I do not have a fixed diocese or a parish, nor can I administer church services openly. For a long period of time, I wandered around looking for pastoral work.
I have been imprisoned many times and beaten by some very vicious people, who I won’t name. I was misunderstood and spurned, even by family members. But I never abandoned my choice.
The problem now is, I feel perplexed. I find today’s society so different, so strange. I do not know what to do. I cannot help recalling the situation when I was ordained more than ten years ago.
At that time, both the open and underground communities needed young priests urgently. As one of the few young priests of the local diocese, I had a lot of freedom to organize activities. I had a lot of time to evangelize.
There were a lot of laypeople around who came from Catholic families of several generations. This made my pastoral life quite busy but quite settled. I had few worries. It was safe to live at a parishioner’s house and organize parish activities.
Furthermore, I could feel the sense of communion with God and a deep sense of warmth in the big family of the Church.
Nowadays, that sense of belonging has gone and there are fewer and fewer underground Catholics.
First of all, the long-time Catholics who formed the majority of the faithful community have simply grown older. Some of them are sick now, some have passed away.
But the younger generation do not want to stay in a life based around faith and family. They feel this kind of life is tedious and not dynamic. It also places a higher demand on their sense of virtue and they’re tired of it.
Also, if you look at it from the Church’s point of view, there are more young priests in the open community than in the underground. They have received better formation, they are more knowledgeable and they are very enthusiastic. Because they can celebrate Mass publicly, the liturgy is more lively and passionate. And this attracts many young Catholics from the underground community.
Many underground priests like me feel perplexed and hesitated. They would love to find a good diocese and parish so they can settle down, but the future is so uncertain.
Most importantly, they hope there will be unity and communion soon between the underground and open communities so the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church can become a reality in the Church in China.”