Catholic Bishop, China
I am grateful for the opportunity to be with you this afternoon. The Community of Sant’ Egidio has blest me with the invitation to participate in this meeting for peace and I pray that their service in Darfur will help the people of the Sudan experience the peace that Christ came to bring all people. You who are here with me this afternoon honor me with your presence and I am touched by the respect that you give me.
My name is Paul Junmin Pei, and I am Bishop of the Archdiocese of Shenyang in Liaoning province, China. The Archdiocese has a population of about 43 million people just about the size of the population of Spain. If you want another example, you could take the populations of Portugal, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta together and they would be smaller than the total population of the Archdiocese of Shenyang. China has the reputation of doing thing big and this is also true in the Church. So I am grateful to have the opportunity to be with you today in order that I can enjoy the beauty of Spain and share with you some of my thoughts and concerns about “The Family of God, Family of Peoples”.
In China we are often focused on our own challenges and difficulties because of our own historical situation. We are the largest population in the world, one billion three hundred million people. In my own diocese of 43 million people I have only 80 priests and 180 religious to help me fulfill the Lord’s mandate to “Go therefore make disciples of all nations…”(Mt 28:19-20) At times I lack the faith, the hope to dream with the eye of Jesus, to respond to His call to share, “To give from our own poverty” as our Venerable Pope John Paul asked in “Redentoris Missio”. But my heart always goes back to Jesus and the hopefilled widow in the Gospel.
“ Looking up, he saw rich people putting their offerings into the treasury; and he noticed a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, “I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all put in money they could spare, but she in her poverty has put in all she had to vie on” (LK 21:1-4).
I am often tempted to feel overwhelmed by the challenges, the sufferings of my people, but then God, as always, comes with an invitation to believe in Him and give. Today the call is go to Barcelona so that I can be inspired again to think as the Lord wills.
By the end of 2009, China’s urban population reached 620 million people, 46 percent of the total population. Our urban population is twice the population of the United States and one quarter more than the total population of the European Union. This tends to overshadow the fact that the majority of our population, 680 million people still live in rural China (China Daily7/30/10). This reality creates the pastoral challenge that we must face daily and it is often overlooked by the world, and at times even by us in the Church.
Our Premier, Wen Jiabao, on September 24th in the General Assembly of the United Nations, “Listed China’s successes over the past three decades – its increased economic and overall national strength, the marked improvement in the livelihood of its people, and its continually expanding cooperation with the outside world…but he also cited the shortcomings. China’s gross domestic product (GDP) is the third largest in the world, but in per capita terms, it is only one tenth of that of developed countries. ‘The Chinese people’s livelihood has made significant improvement, but we do not yet have a full-fledged social security system, and we are confronted with high employment pressure.’ In this complex situation “China faces unprecented challenged brought by problems both old and new and (China) remains a developing country” (UN News, September 24, 2010).
As a Church, we are also faced daily with the challenges of our people who live, at the same time, in the two worlds of development and underdevelopment. We are both an urban and rural people of God trying to build a harmonious society and contribute to the peace of the world.
In our society we have decided that care for the sick and elderly is a priority for us. In some of our parishes we have begun opening up little parish clinics to help the poorest of the people. Our Catholic Service Center, In Shenyang, has developed an AIDS program that attempt to reach out and serve those afflicted with this painful disease. Patiently and consistently, the center has been serving those who seek help while reaching out to all in need of medical assistance, friendship, or solidarity as they struggle to maintain their spirit during this sickness. The center has developed such a good pastoral presence in the AIDS community that it has been able to inspire other dioceses in China to begin similar AIDS outreach projects.
Our work with the elderly has been defined by the building of homes in different cities, towns and villages so that the local elderly can be cared for in and by members of the community. But now I realize we face a future that we are not prepared for. China will become the oldest society in the world by 2030. The United Nations also forecasts that people aged 60 and over will account for 28 percent of the country’s total population by 2040, that is around 420 million people(China Daily 9/25/10). Along with these facts, Li Baoku, President of the China Aging Development Foundation, has been quoted as saying that “The suicide rate among rural elderly in China is four to five times higher that the world average” (China Daily 9/8/10)”. Our traditional values and love of our parents is being challenged by so many of the changes that the growth in the elderly population will place an unspeakable responsibility on all of us. And as a bishop I have become aware of this reality because I had to prepare for the encounter with you.
The painful reality of the growth of suicide in the elderly is sadly joined to the painful reality of suicide among woman in China. According to Yang Fude, vice-president of Beijing Hui Long Guan Hospital, “China is the only country where suicides among women outnumber men……It is also one of the few countries where rural suicides outnumber urban suicides” (China Daily 9/11/07)
Sadly I must add that suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged between 15-34. Our young, our future, the love of our lives are losing hope in their future.
So where do we go? Where should I go as a bishop? I believe that as a Church we have both a responsibility and an obligation to cooperate in the building of a harmonious society, a world of families. Pope John Paul II was so wise when he reminded the lay faithful, the clergy and bishops of the need to obey the command of Christ.
Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation (Mk 16:15),
And take up anew the missionary endeavor. A great venture, both challenging and wonderful, is entrusted to the Church-that of a re-evangelization, which is much needed by the present world. The lay faithful ought to regard themselves as an active and responsible part of this venture, called as they are to proclaim and to live the Gospel in service to the person and to society while respecting the totality
of the values and needs of both ( Christifidelis laici no. 64).
This can only be done with prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit who is acting already within us. We just have to be willing to recognize the Spirit’s presence and open up our hearts.
According to a report from the U.N. Population Fund:
Rapid urbanization was expected to mean the triumph of rationality, secular values and the demystification of the world, as well as the relegation of religion to a secondary role….Instead there has been a renewal in religious interest in many countries( Religious News Service 7/6/07).
Just before the summer Olympics in 2008 the Pew Forum on Religion & Public life published a report on “Religion in China on the Eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics”. It stated that:
According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 31% of the Chinese public considers religion to be somewhat important in their lives compared with only 11% who say religion is not at all important. When asked a somewhat different question in a 2005 Pew poll, an even greater percentage of the Chinese public(56%) considered religion somewhat important in their lives( The Pew Forum, May 2, 2008).
God has blest us with a new dawn. It has a cross but we joyfully embrace it as the Family of God working for a Family of Peoples. Today I ask you to pray that one day soon we might establish a Catholic University in Shenyang dedicated to the study of the social problems that we are now facing. We need thousands of psychologists, social workers, youth workers to respond to the needs of the people of China. In our poverty but with our Faith in Jesus we want to contribute to the building of a harmonious society in China. I will place this petition at the feet of the Holy Family in the majestic Church of Barcelona.
As St. Teresa of Avila once wrote:
May today there be peace within
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you…
May you be content knowing that you are a child of God
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us
THANK YOU AND MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL!