Via Media

Via Media

Jesus in China

The LA Times on a project to restore the window’s in Shanghai’s Catholic cathedral, spearheaded by a California Jesuit and a Chinese artist. Being the cathedral, it is, of course, a Patriotic Association church, and the political aspect is definitely underplayed in the story, which is understandable, I suppose, since it’s about art, but it still leaves questions hanging about the current situation which is, as we’ve discussed here before, quite fluid with many unknown quantities.

From the article:

Then, in 1978, China took its first steps toward opening its economy to investment and market reform. St. Ignatius Cathedral, which had spent more than a decade as a state-owned grain warehouse, was returned to the Shanghai diocese. But China’s Catholic Church was in disarray, bitterly divided between those who agreed to worship in churches registered by the government-chartered Catholic Patriotic Assn. and those who went underground and flouted government jurisdiction.


In 1979, upon his release from prison, Jin chose the government-registered church, which the vast majority of Catholic leaders outside of China refused to recognize. Father Edward Malatesta, a Jesuit from Los Gatos, saw things differently when he took up the California Jesuit mission in the early 1980s. Like Jin, Malatesta firmly believed that the Catholic Church’s future in China hinged on working within the system. He took a stand with Rome.

"It was Malatesta who went to the Father General [of the Jesuits] and explained the real situation in China," Jin says in his office. "He was the intermediary."

In 1998, Malatesta introduced Father Thomas Lucas, then a young University of San Francisco faculty member, to Bishop Jin as the ideal artist to replace the windows of St. Ignatius. Two weeks later Malatesta was dead, and Lucas was uncertain how to proceed. He freely admits to being reluctant to do the project, because of both the technical difficulties and the political ramifications of working within a church hierarchy still widely viewed as a collaborator to a communist, atheistic government. But Shanghai was determined to have him, so Lucas made careful, diplomatic inquiries with the highest levels of the Jesuits.


"It was cleared through the main [Jesuit] office in Rome," he recounts carefully. "And I was encouraged to go ahead with it."

The Jesuit Father General is only one of many senior church leaders supporting Lucas and Wo. Additional support for the project—financial, spiritual and training—flows from major Catholic organizations, bishops and dioceses in the United States and Germany interested in fostering better relations among Beijing, the divided Chinese Church and the Holy See.

A 2002 Crisis article featuring an interview with the Bishop of Shanghai:

As our discussion continues, Bishop Jin’s resentment for those who remained loyal to Rome is clear. Asked why underground Catholics don’t come above ground and worship with the Patriotic Association, he frowns: "Some in the underground Church are stubborn. If they emerge, they will lose prestige. Then they are not winners. They are losers."


He becomes more animated. "They have a lot of support, from the U.S. and Taiwan. If they emerge, they lose control. Every underground priest has jurisdiction over all of China. They can go around and collect money…. The underground priests take the Mass stipend and put it in their pockets. After normalization, they would not be so free. They would have to remain inside their diocese.

They prefer to remain an underground Church, because that way they enjoy lots of advantages. They have more freedom, more money, more prestige. They can say ‘We are loyal to the pope!’" When I observe that they’re also beaten and thrown out of windows by Chinese State Security, the bishop falls silent. His demeanor isn’t nearly as harsh as his words, and it’s hard to tell what he’s saying for the benefit of those listening in on our conversation.

Comments read comments(4)
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Clare Krishan

posted July 16, 2006 at 4:47 pm

Visuals here (click on the fourth of six Jesuit photo essays, <a href="
“Stained”>“>”Stained glass windows for a Chinese cathedral by Thomas Lucas SJ)”

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Mike Walsh, MM

posted July 16, 2006 at 5:49 pm

The last sentence is key. As Church leaders have know for a very long time, every public statement they make must be judged by the cosequences that may be suffered by their flocks.

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posted July 17, 2006 at 1:45 am

It’s a mistake to paint “not working with the system” as “stubborn refusal”. While the CPA may be a better-off place nowadays, as recently as the early 90s they were having prayer books and seminary instruction vetted by Communist Party cadres at the Bureau for Religious Affairs.
And the thing is that, while the CCP tolerates slightly more freedom of expression nowadays, those cadres are still in place.

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Maureen O'Brien

posted July 17, 2006 at 10:51 am

Frosting/etching plain white pictures into stained glass is an interesting way to do things. I’m not sure it quite utilized the real beauty of frosted glass, but the pictures are nice. Certainly brought down the costs and difficulty level of putting together stained glass images, which is probably a good thing in this case. Also, very definitely not ugly.
I think I’d like to see this technique done on a bigger scale, somewhere.

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