The Pope's intentions for China

Catholic "China watchers" have been intrigued in recent weeks by the overtures of Pope John Paul II to normalize relations between the Church and the Peoples' Republic. According to a story in Catholic World News, Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, secretary of the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, told the Italian daily newspaper Avvenire that the Pope is trying to restart the dialogue between China and the Holy See - "a situation which is frozen in place." The Italian prelate was quoted as saying that the Pope "would be ready to sign an accord with China tomorrow" and is eager to visit Beijing.

These developments were sparked by the Pope's Oct. 25 message to the participants of an international meeting in Rome on "Matteo Ricci: For a Dialogue between China and the West." The symposium marked the fourth centenary of the arrival of the Jesuit missionary priest in Beijing in January of 1601.

Pope John Paul noted the contribution of Father Ricci and at the same time asked pardon for errors committed by missionaries and others in China in the colonial periods of that nation's history. He went on to say that the "normalization of relations between the People's Republic of China and the Holy See would undoubtedly have positive repercussions for humanity's progress."

Calling Father Ricci's work "enduringly relevant," the Pope stated that "Father Ricci based his entire scientific and apostolic methodology upon two pillars, to which he remained faithful until his death: first, Chinese neophytes, in embracing Christianity, did not in any way have to renounce loyalty to their country; second, the Christian revelation of the mystery of God in no way destroyed but in fact enriched and complemented everything beautiful and good, just and holy, in what had been produced and handed down by the ancient Chinese tradition."

As the Pope pointed to the model offered by Father Ricci, he also acknowledged that "the work of members of the Church in China was not always without error, and that "in certain periods of modern history," there persisted a "kind of 'protection' on the part of European political powers." The Pope expressed "deep sadness for these errors and limits of the past," and, he said, "I regret that in many people these failings may have given the impression of a lack of respect and esteem for the Chinese people on the part of the Catholic Church. For all of this I ask the forgiveness and understanding of those who may have felt hurt in some way by such actions on the part of Christians."

The Fides news agency posted reaction to the Pope's message from representatives of Church and government, missionaries, scholars and diplomats in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. From all these groups, which include Chinese Catholics, both "official as well as underground," there was a common note of "amazement" and widespread appreciation and hope about the Pope's gesture.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi said at a subsequent press conference,

"China intends to examine the message very carefully. China has always wished to improve relations with the Vatican. In the past China has always underlined two principles, which are still valid: 1. The Holy See must break relations with Taiwan and recognize the Peoples' Republic of China as the only representative of all China. Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. 2. The Vatican must not use religion to interfere in China's internal affairs."

The perceived "interference" has to do (at least in part) with the fact that the government, rather than the Pope, appoints bishops to the government-registered church. Voices within this "official" church maintain that many of their bishops are faithful (although secretly) to the Holy See, even though they are obliged to take direction from the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a kind of government liaison between China's Religious Affairs Bureau and the government-registered church.

Pope John Paul II has often expressed great esteem for Chinese Catholics, taking special note of those under persecution for the faith. The "underground" Church faithful to Rome has borne a large measure (though not all) of these attacks and remains particularly vulnerable. The Pope has made it clear that his goals for the Church include reconciliation among all Chinese Catholics. In the end he wants unity among all those who would call themselves Catholics, and he knows that that unity will necessarily require his ministry as Vicar of Jesus Christ. "Where Peter is, there is the Church." One might assume that if there is any way that the Successor of Peter can find to get to China and preach the message of Christ, he will find it and take the opportunity.

Our own prayers for the intentions of the Holy Father may well be directed in such a way that the Peoples' Republic - which so much wants the support of the global community as it prepares for the Olympics - will be helped to negotiate an opening for the Pope to come to Beijing.

Authentic definition of the person

Human life is sacred to us, not just because it is a good, but because human life is precious to God. As the end of this month of October draws near, a month dedicated to the cause of life, we do well to reflect upon this fundamental tenet upon which the Christian pro-life movement rests. The true origin and destiny of human beings are so basic to the Christian witness for life that to ignore them is to lose sight of the reason for the cause. Every aspect of our pro-life activities should be permeated with an ever-growing awareness of the origin and meaning of the human person as the image of God, and the glorious destiny of the human person restored to this likeness by the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ and Savior of Man.

Human beings, male and female, are God's delegates. Out of love, and in his infinite goodness, God chose to create a creature that would be his royal representative, his own image on the earth. As St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, every human being reflects some aspect of God uniquely. The image of God presents a kind of revelation of God himself. The likeness is beyond anything merely physical. It is a matter of having the capacity to represent God, who calls each person into being to continue the work of creation.

God created with the intention of making human beings the only persons in his entire creation with both a supernatural soul and body. While we live, from conception to death, each human being manifests himself or herself in and through the body. This truth has two implications which must be emphasized, perhaps today more than ever. The bodily life of every living human being is sacred from the moment of conception, regardless of one's capacity to reason. And, beginning at the time one can reason, the actions performed in and through the body have moral significance and eternal consequences.

No combination of all the scientific information known can capture the meaning of God's human creation. Christians know from the truth of faith the falsity of the abortionists' claim that the embryonic human and human fetus constitute nothing more than a grouping of cells or a mass of tissue. We know that personhood is not established on the basis of an individual's ability to function. Our biology can be studied and compared to other similar beings. But the biology of the human being does not exhaust the full meaning of the human person who is, at the same time, both physical and spiritual.

Thus, it is of significant consequence that the law and many schools of ethical thought are founded upon erroneous notions of human personhood which are irreconcilable with the authentic view of the human person revealed by God. In all matters of justice, attempts at securing rights that lose sight of the authentic definition of the person, inevitably lead to gross violations of human dignity. None more serious has occurred in the United States than the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision with its political, moral and intellectual consequences.

Peace in the Mideast

In a plea to "shut the gates of death, hatred and terror" and stop "the Mideast's spiral of violence," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem called for an end to the clashes in the West Bank that have resulted in so many deaths and injuries. In the most recent escalation of military action in Bethlehem following the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet member, Church leaders said Israeli armed forces were restricting the movements of Palestinians, preventing residents in the Palestinian territories from going to work or school.

"It is enough with the bloodshed; it is enough with the fighting," Patriarch Sabbah said in a letter released Oct. 21, insisting that the way to bring an end to this circle of violence is to restore "the occupied land to the real owners." Indeed the real owners must include both Palestinians and Jews, as the Catholic leader readily acknowledged. "To the Israeli people we say: You merit also security and peace. In everybody and in every one of you we see the dignity that derives from that of God, which is a gift to every human person, Palestinian or Hebrew," he said.

The question remains: Who will stand with Patriarch Sabbah to represent a legitimate and authoritative voice for the Arab-speaking people of the Holy Land? How will radical terrorist elements be contained so that the necessary logic of dialogue can bear fruit in peace?

Celebrating All Saints, All Souls

All Hallows was the early English designation of all the blessed ones or all of the saints. Children dressed as their patron saints. The theme of the observance was Christian hope. The injection of ghostly figures and skeletons came from St. Matthew's description of the death of Jesus: "Many bodies of saints who had fallen asleep were raised."

In Rome the magnificent Pantheon, built by Emperor Marcus Agrippa in 27 B.C. served as a temple in honor of all the pagan gods. In 609 A.D. the Emperor Phocas gave the edifice to Pope Boniface IV, who rededicated it in honor of Mary and all the holy martyrs, and established a feast in honor of all the martyrs on May 13. Eventually the feast honored all of the saints and was transferred to Nov. 1.

The feast of All Saints, Nov. 2, is a reminder that not only the relatively few canonized saints, but all the holy men and women of every time and place, who have attained the perfection of charity, now participate in the glory of God. Surely holy people we have known and loved are among the blessed of God. This insight gives life and meaning to our credal declaration of belief in the Communion of the Saints. The preface of the festal liturgy reminds us: Around your throne, the saints, our brothers and sisters, sing your praise forever. Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength, as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them."

The feast of All Souls is a companion to that of All Saints and dates from the ninth century. It underscores our belief that those who die in God's grace, but have not fully atoned for their transgressions are cleansed in a state of purgation (Purgatory). Their salvation is certain and we can assist them with our prayers.

Again the theme of this feast is the Christian hope and the sure knowledge that our God is a loving and merciful God, who reaches out to us despite our frailty. The liturgy of the day expresses throughout the hope of resurrection in Christ. "In him who rose from the dead our hope of resurrection dawned. The sadness of death gives way to the bright promise of immortality, Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven."

As we enter November may our prayerful thoughts for those who have gone before us be renewed in the hope of the Gospel. All you saints, come to our aid.

What can we do?

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, many of us ordinary folk are asking what we can do to further the cause of peace and bring an end to terrorism in the world. Simply going about our everyday lives just doesn't seem to be enough. Each of us also needs to assess our life and look for areas where we can place more emphasis on doing God's work on earth.

Everyone reading this, for example, prays every day but now we need to pray more. Prayer is a powerful force in bringing each of us peace and in strengthening us to see and spread God's love. We can, as Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Justin Rigali recommend, say the rosary daily. We can say the rosary as we commute to work or perform sundry other daily living tasks. We can participate in the Mass and the Eucharist more frequently. We can join small faith communities, such as the Renew groups currently meeting in parishes. We can answer Archbishop Rigali's call to increase our eucharistic adoration. Some 16 parishes in the archdiocese offer perpetual adoration 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More than 120 offer weekly adoration. Eucharistic adoration also is available daily at other locations, such as the Pink Sisters in North St. Louis and the Discalced Carmelites on Clayton Road. Visit the archdiocese's Web site www.archstl.org for details.

Many of us are already involved in some area of social justice but now is the time to consider doing more or getting involved for the first time. The archdiocese's Web site is a resource for social justice opportunities, and the Renew program is challenging participants to study and reflect, to share faith and to discover new ways to work for peace through justice here in our own backyard. Social justice opportunities also exist in civic and community organizations, as well as organizations reaching out to the poor throughout the world and other groups focused on serving others. For those of us itching to be actively involved in bringing peace to the world, social justice work is a hands-on answer. When motivated by Christian love, we can accomplish great things.

We also can further the cause of peace by finding ways to be more gentle with ourselves and with those we love. Our lives can be so busy that we miss the joy, beauty and love God gives us each day in this world. We can make time for ourselves to take a quiet walk, read a book or listen to music. We can make time for our family to do things together, such as preparing and sharing a meal, cleaning out the garage or raking an elderly neighbor's leaves. We can reach out to our extended family, perhaps with a letter or e-mail, an invitation to dinner, a phone call or even a family reunion. We can make time for friends and be more open to co-workers. We can express our love daily to those we otherwise take for granted.

Perhaps a good way to start this self-assessment is with the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It offers us opportunities for self-reflection and renews and strengthens us to go back out into the world. With trust, not fear, with hope, not despair, we can spread the message of God's love to the world by striving in our everyday lives to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

World Mission Sunday

"Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him." These words of Pope John Paul II are the underlying dynamic of the whole evangelization work entrusted to the Church on Pentecost Sunday. They are thematic to the 75th World Mission Sunday, celebrated in every diocese, parish and institute of the Catholic world this weekend, Oct. 20-21. As we have known Jesus Christ, so also we must bring him to all people everywhere.

Father John E. Kozar, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in the United States, wrote in the fall edition of Mission magazine about the sorrows of Sept. 11 in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. He observed that in the missions, in such times of violence, persecution and war, "it is always the missionaries who are there at 'ground zero.' Some bring medical help; others bring food and clothing; still others provide shelter. All offer the love of our Lord."

The Diocese of Fairbanks, Alaska, sends out a frequent request for help in their evangelization work in one of the largest, most difficult missionary areas of the United States. The newsletter for the Catholic missions of Northern Alaska reminds its readers of something that can be said of all the Church's missionary work: "Some give by going to the missions. Some go by giving to the missions. Without both there are no missions."

This Sunday Catholics are encouraged to "go by giving" - to unite in prayer and sacrifice for the missionary heroes of our world; those who day after day proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ - his love and his peace - by their words and the very witness of their lives. At the end of holy Mass, we hear the words that give the Mass its common name. In Latin the Church says, "Ite, missa est." Go! the Mass (missa) is ended. We are also "missa," that is, sent as missionaries. We have heard Christ in his Word, we have experienced him in one another, we have received him in his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. We must share him in the encounters we now have with each other. "Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him."

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