We were recently in one of those brand new commercial compounds in Pudong, Shanghai. Having just finished a spicy meal in a fanciful Chinese restaurant with tables alone pools filled with goldfish and lotus flowers, we were taking a pleasant stroll with a bubble tea in hand.
When else to encounter the statue of Virgin Mary, and what better backdrop to all this glitter than the Cross? Right next to the crowded shops and restaurants is a small Catholic Church. It was late afternoon and the gate was closing, but we managed to walk in and chatted with a staffer for a while. And as always, we took whatever booklets and other free print materials available as we left.
One booklet is a letter written by the Bishop of Shanghai, Jin Luxian, to the Catholic believers in Shanghai, on the occasion of the past Chinese New Year (which fell in February this year). The letter is a rare revelation of the thinking of a Chinese Bishop.
Below are the highlights.
1, The Bishop showed disappointment by the growth of Catholics believers in Shanghai.
“Last year, Bishop Xing gave me the list of baptisms in the Shanghai diocese in 2009. There were 1,641 people baptized and 1,038 deaths. In all, there were only 603 new believers for the year. There are 83 priests in the diocese, which indicates each priest only contributes 20 saves souls to our Lord each year. Can this be good news?”
The Bishop continues:
“In 1945, there were 100,000 brothers and sisters in Shanghai. After 62 years and three generations, there are still 100,000 Catholics today. By comparison, there were 20,000 Protestants in Shanghai in 1949. But there are now over 200,000 Protestants in Shanghai. Isn’t it time for us to self-criticize?”
2, He opposes over-building churches beyond practical needs.
“In 1951, there were over 390 churches in Shanghai. Public transportation was poor back then. I remember there was one church each three to five kilometers in Pudong as there were no buses nor rickshaws. After the interruption during the Cultural Revolution, there were 5 churches in Shanghai reopened in 1982. In 1988, there were over 30 churches. Now there are 148 churches in Shanghai. With convenient transportation of today, it is a sufficient number for our needs.”
“In 2010, the expenses of building new churches in Shanghai was one third of the diocese’s annual revenue. Isn’t this a huge number? I am not against building new churches, but investment in new churches should match the need for them. Some priests told me that a number of new churches are only open for one or two days a month for masses. They were empty and closed in the rest of the days.
“I am almost 96 and I am ready for the Lord’s call. He will ask me what I have done for all the blessings the Lord has afforded me. Maybe I will say, “my Lord, I built many churches.” The Lord will stop me and say, “This is secondary. What I want are not steel or cement. What I want are souls, saved souls…how many souls have you saved? …”
3, He urges priests in Shanghai to reach out to the poor, the underprivileged and the marginalized.
Bishop Jin makes a parallel between the direction of Shanghai diocese’s mission to that of the Industrial Revolution.
“…After the invention of the steam engine, many youths in the countryside went to the city to work in the factories. The priests who shepherded these workers could no longer take care of them, now far away from home. The churches in the cities insisted on their traditional congregations and did not accept the new laborers…”
“There are five million laborers in Shanghai from other parts of China. If one percent of them are Catholics, that will be 50,000 brothers and sisters. Two percent means 100,000 more. Priests, you should rejoice that the Lord has given you so many lamb…”
His Excellency, Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai
His Excellency Aloysius Jin was born in Shanghai on 20 June 1916；enrolled into the seminary in 1932; entered the Society of Jesus in 1938; ordained as a Jesuit priest on 19 May 1945; since 1951, served as Vice Rector of the Xuhui Reginal Seminary and was the Jesuit Vice Superior in Shanghai as well as China Jesuits Vice Visitor; since 1982, was the rector of Sheshan Seminary; was ordained a Bishop on 27 January 1985; became the Bishop of Shanghai in 1988.