Rorate Caeli

Hong Kong Catholic priest speaks out publicly for the first time about the persecution of the Church in China

(The following was published in The Wanderer Catholic Newspaper on March 10 and marks the first time Father Woo chose to speak out publicly about the persecution of the Church in his native country.)

By Rev Vincent Woo, JCD (Cand.)

In 1917, Our Lady appeared in Fatima and warned us that if we do not repent from our sins, the errors of Russia will spread. How true it is, given what has been going on in the past few days in Ukraine. Yet, the errors of Russia are present in other parts of the world like China as well. The Chinese Communist Party is notorious for its complete lack of respect for human dignity. One example is the restriction of religious freedom. Instead of killing early Christians like the Romans did, the CCP took a different strategy by avoiding to create martyrs. It established a state-run church independent from Romecalled the Patriotic Associationand it desired to corrupt the faith from within. The CCP really wanted Cardinal Kungthen bishop of Shanghaito lead this national church that pledged allegiance to the state. Cardinal Kung was adamant that he would never betray his faith. The CCP arrested him in 1955, together with hundreds of Shanghai priests, religious, and lay Catholics. Cardinal Kung, together with many of these heroes of the faith, was jailed for 33 years.


Therefore, we are gathered here today for three reasons. First, to pray for the repose of the soul of Cardinal Kung. Second, to pray for the persecuted Christians in the present day and their persecutors. Third, to preserve the authentic history of the underground Church in China.


First, we pray for Cardinal Kung and those who have died because of religious persecutions in China. One distinctive feature of Catholic theology is that we do not assume that the deceased go to heaven immediately. We are obliged by justice to pray for those who have passed away, so that they can be purified from their sins and enter into heaven as soon as possible. For each sin that we commit, we have to make reparation either in this life or in purgatory before we can see God face to face. We should pray for Cardinal Kung, so that he can be with God as soon as possible. Cardinal Kung truly began his purgatory on earth, as Chinese prisons and labor camps are probably the closest thing on earth to purgatory. The Chinese labor camps, known as laogaithat is re-education through laboris the Chinese equivalent of the Soviet gulag. Prisoners have to perform hard laborsoften 16 hours per dayapart from receiving Communist indoctrination, so that they would eventually conform their minds to the socialist ideology. How did these men and women of faith survive without losing their minds? It is their belief in eternal life. Only the thought of heaven kept them going and prevent them from committing suicide. It is their belief that all these pains and sufferings have redemptive values in Gods plan. They can offer up these difficulties to God for the salvation of souls and the conversion of the persecutors. Many of these Shanghai Catholics were college students when they were arrested. Some of them were jailed for 20-30 years. Friends, whenever you feel that life is hard and you want to give up, think about these young men and women who suffered so much for Christ. 


Second, please continue to pray for the underground Catholics and their persecutors. For a period of time after the 1980s, there was a greater degree of religious freedom in China. However, the CCP has really tightened its control on religions again in the past few years. The CCP persecutes all religions: Christians, Buddhists, Muslims; no one is exempt. Just last May, a hundred armed policemen raided an underground seminary in Henan province because the bishop and priests refused to join the Patriotic Association. Out of Christian charity, we Christians in the free world must speak out against these atrocities because persecuted Christians are our brothers and sisters in the mystical body of Christ. Just imagine if you have a cousin who is abused by her father, how can you not speak out for her? By charity and justice, we need to make the ongoing persecution in China known to the rest of the world: not just the persecutions of Christians, but also the genocide of the Uyghurs that is ongoing at this moment. At least one million Uyghurs are locked up and systemically persecuted. Therefore, my friends, it is out of charity and justice that we speak out for those persecuted, so that Christians would persevere in their faith and never cave in to the unjust demands of the CCP. It is by perseverance that they will save their souls.    


In fact, when we speak out we are acting out of charity toward the persecutors as well. We perform a spiritual work of mercy when we correct the evil behavior of others. In contrast, if we remain silent and refrain from saying anything, we are not exercising charity toward those persecutors. We fail to be merciful toward them. They need to know that what they are doing is really wrong so that they would repent before they die. It is out of love, not out of hatred, that we should call these bad actors responsible for their evil actions.


Third, we have to preserve the authentic history of the underground Church in China, as the CCP has been trying its best to manipulate the historical narratives of what happened in the 1950s. It attempts to rewrite the history of the Church in China by claiming that the conflict between the underground Church and the Patriotic Association is merely some human conflict between two groups of Catholics. In fact, some clergy fell into the trap of this false narrative as well. Recently, a Vatican diplomat said: what blocks Catholics in the underground church is a psychological barrier resulting from being suddenly asked to change their five-decades-old perception of the state-run Church.” According to this official, there are really no dogmatic differences between these two entities. Sadly, this is not the truth. While acknowledging that not all Catholics who belong to the Patriotic Association are bad people, I must forcefully point out that the Patriotic Association as an entity is a state-run Church that is heavily controlled by the government. It was started by some bishops who pledged allegiance to the CCP. Under Chinese law, people under 18 cannot enter into these churches. On the other hand, the underground Church includes bishops, priests, and lay catholics who try their best to resist the unjust control of the government and remain true to the faith. This is the history of these two entities that no one can deny. As the survivors of the Shanghai persecution are advanced in age, we must preserve this history and not be deceived by the CCP.


I would conclude todays homily with a personal testimony of Cardinal Kung. After his release, Cardinal Kung was asked what the most difficult moment was in his three decades in jail. According to the Cardinal, the most painful time for him was this: Jesuit Father Jin, who was imprisoned for more than two decades, eventually caved in to the CCP and was illicitly ordained a patriotic bishop of Shanghai; and after ordination, the CCP sent this Jesuit bishop to visit Cardinal Kung, in an attempt to persuade the Cardinal to change his mind and join the Patriotic Association. This was the deepest pain suffered by the Cardinal in his 33 years of imprisonment. This speaks a lot about the Cardinals attitude toward the nature of the Patriotic Association, which has remained unchanged in its essence until the present day.


In 1917, Our Lady asked us to pray and fast, otherwise the errors of Russia would spread. Despite the fall of Soviet Union, the errors of Russia are still around. Dear friends, please take heed of the call of Our Lady of Fatima by praying and fasting. If we do not follow the command of Our Lady, the consequence will be very grave. Lets do our part and trust in Our Lord and Our Lady, for the Immaculate Heart will triumph in the end.

(This column published by The Wanderer was drawn from remarks Father Woo delivered in a homily at a 2022 Solemn Requiem Mass for Ignatius Cardinal Kung at St. Anthony Church in Washington DC.)