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The witness of Chinese Catholics

SIR – Occasionally, stories from the underground Catholic Church in China make it through the bamboo curtain to give us a glimpse of their valour and devotion. One I heard many years ago was about a missionary who visited China and stayed with a Catholic family in a rural area. In the middle of the night, he heard everyone moving around. He accompanied them as they crept out of the house and made off across the fields. Many other people had gathered there, coming from all directions; some kept watch in case anyone had been followed by the authorities. They were there to adore the Blessed Sacrament. All knelt in silent adoration for a holy hour, then went home.

No one knows just how much they have suffered at the hands of the atheist communist government over the past few decades; persecutions are varied, from economic sanctions such as fines and loss of work, to harassment by police and neighbours, or torture, imprisonment and martyrdom. The regime has been quite consistent in its desire to control every aspect of the lives of its people and to single out the menace of religion for particularly brutal attention.

When Neville Chamberlain attempted to avoid conflict by signing the Munich agreement with Hitler, I imagine he was sincere, if a little naïve, as the full horror of Nazism had not yet been revealed. But the recent agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government over the appointment of bishops is quite incomprehensible: their character is already known.

The faithfulness of the underground Church is an incredible witness to the rest of the Catholic world; let’s hope and pray that the Church they love can prove worthy of their sacrifices for it and stand with them now.

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