If you lived in the People's Republic of China, would you be a practicing Roman Catholic?
In China, you'll remember, Catholicism is outlawed. Oh sure, you can be a member of the Patriotic Church which is as much a government institution as it is a religion. And the relations between the Patriotic Church and the Vatican seem to be improving.
But my question is whether you would be a member of the Underground Church, persecuted by the state. All worship would have to be done in secret and in constant fear of being discovered. And supposing you were caught...it's anybody's guess.
To give you an idea, there's news that the Underground bishop of Yongnian, Msgr. Giovanni Han Dingxian passed away on Sunday. No one is quite sure how His Excellency died, for he died where he's spent roughly half of his life: in prison. But the curious thing is that within hours of his death (sometime around 3 A.M. or 4 A.M.), authorities had the body cremated and buried.
Unsympathetic and heartless to family and friends -- no question. But strange too.
Perhaps events of the past can help shed some light on this bizarre behavior of the Chinese government.
Ah yes, here we go:
Years before, in April ’92, there was the case of Msgr. Giuseppe Fan Xueyan, Underground bishop of Baoding, who died in prison. His body was dumped on the doorstep of his home, wrapped in a plastic bag, with signs of torture on his neck (perhaps the mark of a wire string used to choke him) and bruises on his chest and face.
Another case remembered by the Catholics is that of Msgr. Liu Difen, Underground bishop of Anguo (Hebei), who also died in ’92, after a period spent in prison. The police had warned his relatives to visit him in hospital because he was “gravely ill”. Immediately after the visit the bishop died. His body was handed back to his family and as they prepared him for burial they noticed that he had “holes in his back, the depth of a finger: a sign that he had been tortured”.
After spending 35 years of his life in prison, and being cremated within hours of his death, I think it's safe to assume Bishop Han Dingxian was a martyr who suffered a trifle more than torture by choking, bruising and drilling holes in his back.
Which brings me back to my question: If you lived in the People's Republic of China, would you be a practicing Roman Catholic?
Bishop Giovanni Han Dingxian, pray for us.