Archive for the ‘religious freedom’ Category
By Kathleen Naab
ROME, JAN. 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The director of the “Church and Sport” section at the Pontifical Council for the Laity admits that the “Tim Tebow phenomenon” has heightened his interest in the NFL playoffs.
Legionary of Christ Father Kevin Lixey works in the Roman Curia helping the Church make a contribution to the world of sport, with the aim of promoting a sports culture suitable to the integral development of the individual.
Those familiar with the NFL — and even those who are not — might have heard of Tebow for more than his unique style as a quarterback. His outward expressions of his Christian faith are being talked about by all sorts of commentators, in the world of American football and beyond. Though certainly not the only athlete to publicly express his faith on the field, Tebow is drawing more attention than usual. We asked Father Lixey what he thinks about that.
ZENIT: Do you see Tim Tebow’s public expression of faith as a positive or negative phenomenon? Certainly it is drawing a lot of attention to Christ, in one form or another …
Father Lixey: The hype over Tim Tebow is certainly an interesting phenomenon in an ever more secularized world. I consider it something very positive. Even at the college level, while quarterback for the Florida Gators during the 2009 Bowl Championship Series title contest, Tebow wrote “John 3:16” on his eye black. The Palm Beach Post reported that 92million people Googled the verse following the game … impressive!
But, it is not the mere public expression of faith — as Tebow drops a
knee to give thanks after a touchdown, or prays with other players who include teammates and opponents after the game — that is attracting people; it is his entire person.
I had the chance to speak with the offensive coordinator who coached Tim at the Florida Gators. He said he was a very unique player who was spiritually on another stratosphere with respect to the rest of the team. Yet, Tim was respected by his teammates because he was genuine. And this is the point I would like to touch on. As one reporter noted (Chuck Klosterman, Dec. 6, 2011): “This, I think, is what makes Tebow so maddening to those who hate him: He refuses to say anything that would validate the suspicion that he’s fake (or naïve or self-righteous or dumb).”
While Tebow certainly sticks out for these external manifestations of his faith, not to mention his unorthodox playing style as an NFL quarterback, his personal background is also not typical for an NFL quarterback. It is a real “Cinderella” story — although those who have to tackle Tim would not consider him a Cinderella.
First of all, Tim Tebow was born in the Philippines to American parents who were serving as Baptist missionaries, as his father is a pastor. His mother, while pregnant, suffered a life-threatening infection and was advised to have an abortion but she decided not to, and both Tim and his mother survived a difficult pregnancy. Another unique aspect is that Tim, like his four older siblings, was home-schooled. Thanks to legislation that was passed in Florida in 1996, home-schooled students were allowed to compete in local high school sporting events.
ZENIT: OK, but does prayer really have a place in football? Surely God doesn’t care about who wins the Super Bowl — or does he?
Father Lixey: Judging from his public statements, Tebow is one of the few and most prominent religious athletes to recognize that God does not care about the score of football games. Tebow considers his missionary and philanthropic work much more important than football, but at the same time, possible, because of it. We all too often equate prayer with only asking good things from God, where prayer is only used “to obtain something” i.e., victory, health, or a miracle. The Catechism reminds us that prayer is also “the raising of one’s mind and heart to God” and that we “we must remember God more often that we draw breath.”
Certainly there are moments and places more conducive to prayer, but there is no reason that all religious manifestations be entirely banned from the public square. These external manifestations of one’s beliefs are impressive precisely because they are public. Just as Christians once fell to their knees at the sound of the Angelus bell to remember the Incarnation, or just as the cab driver makes the point of getting out of his car to bow down toward Mecca in prayer, I see no reason why a professional football player cannot offer a prayer of thanksgiving or point to heaven instead of doing a lewd victory dance in the end zone.
Nonetheless, these external manifestations can make some people feel uneasy and it is not certain how long this will be “allowed” in the NFL. The Danish Football Federation complained to FIFA for permitting members of the Brazilian national to gather together in prayer after their victory of the 2009 Confederations Cup. FIFA’s president responded by warning that any religious manifestation would not be permitted in the 2010 World Cup.
ZENIT: Along those lines, the Tebow “phenomenon” comes at a time when the U.S. bishops are particularly concerned about religious freedom. Is reaction to Tebow’s public expression of faith a sign that their concern is warranted? Or misplaced? Or is religious freedom on the playing field one thing, and in the public square something else?
Father Lixey: Pope Benedict XVI is also particularly concerned about religious freedom and touched upon this point Monday in his address to members of the diplomatic corps, noting: “In many countries Christians are deprived of fundamental rights and sidelined from public life; in other countries they endure violent attacks against their churches and their homes.”
Obviously the Holy Father was not speaking about the FIFA decision to sideline religion. But it does raise the question: “What is the public square today?” Is it literally that quaint square in front of a town hall somewhere in New England, where perhaps it is no longer permissible to display a Nativity scene? Or is it the Internet, a person’s desk at work, or the professional football stadium?
I think many are impressed with Tim Tebow’s courage in professing his faith for he certainly is mocked for it. When he received flack for doing a pro-life ad with “Focus on the Family” that ran during the 2010 Superbowl, he said: “I know some people won’t agree with it, but I think they can at least respect that I stand up for what I believe in.” This is all Tim is asking. Whether it is standing up, or taking a knee, for what he believes in, many people do respect this, that he stands up for what he believes. Yet, others become infuriated as they consider Tebow guilty of breaching the line that all are supposed to respect, namely, that which separates the secular from the religious, the holy from the profane, the sacred from the everyday.
ZENIT: As Catholics, what can we learn from this situation — from Tebow himself, perhaps, and from the reactions he’s causing?
Father Lixey: Blessed John Paul II once reminded a group of top professional soccer players: “The eyes of sports fans throughout the world are fixed on you. Be conscious of your responsibility! It is not only the champion in the stadium but also the whole person who should become a model for millions of young people, who need ‘leaders,’ not ‘idols.’ They need men who can convey to them the zest for challenge, a sense of discipline, the courage to be honest and the joy of unselfishness.”
I believe Tim Tebow is trying to live up to these words of John Paul II and his example can prompt other athletes to be “leaders” and not idols, being a model on and off the field, especially of the corporal works of mercy. As Tim shares in his own words: “When I was a student at the University of Florida, I found great joy in taking time to encourage children suffering from cancer in hospitals or visiting a prison or juvenile detention center, or doing mission work with my family at Uncle Dick’s Orphanage in the Philippines. … Football is so popular (that) it enables an athlete like me to establish a platform for doing good deeds … to take this experience to an even greater level of outreach and influence. … After my professional career, I plan on giving my life full time to this outreach.”
That’s not a bad role model for the youth. … It’s not a bad example for us to follow either.
Former Baltimore Archbishop Comments on ‘Ad Limina’ Visit
By Ann Schneible
ROME, JAN. 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Christians must remain ever vigilant in confronting movements that seek to infringe upon religious freedom.
This was the reminder voiced by Cardinal-designate Edwin O’Brien when he spoke to ZENIT today about Benedict XVI’s address Thursday to U.S. bishops on their “ad limina” visit.
The archbishop of Baltimore from 2007 till last year, and now the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Cardinal O’Brien also served for a decade as the archbishop for the Military Services.
The Holy Father announced Jan. 6 that the 72-year-old prelate will be made a cardinal next month.
ZENIT: What have been your impressions of this ad limina visit, especially in light of the upcoming consistory in which you will be created Cardinal?
Cardinal-designate O’Brien: Well, I don’t see much connection, but I’m certainly taking an extra interest in things Roman, since I will be living here soon, as soon as my successor is installed — and I hope that’s very soon, but we’ve had no word on that yet. I will be moving permanently here to Rome, and the visits to these dicasteries have given me some good insight, some good orientation, and kind of a sense of expectation for what awaits me here.
ZENIT: The Holy Father in his discourse to the bishops spoke about the issue of religious freedom. Throughout the world Christians have been facing persecution, both through the secularization of the West and also with violent persecution in other places. What does it mean for you to be created a cardinal at this point in Church history?
Cardinal-designate O’Brien: Aside from being created a cardinal, I think we in the United States have always been concerned about persecution and intolerance around the world. I don’t think we ever expected it to come in the form it is coming in our own country, where the government is impinging on some very good work we are trying to do, to force on us values that are foreign to the Judeo-Christian heritage.
The highlight of this ad limina visit has been the visit with the Holy Father. I don’t think any of us expected as magnificent an allocution as we heard yesterday. He was right on, and made the proper distinctions and it applies perfectly to our country. I hope that we can make best use of that to help our fellow Americans realize that slowly but surely, “Big Brother” is closing in on religious communities such as ours and the good work we’re trying to do.
ZENIT: Could you speak a little more about this problem of the government infringing on religious freedom, such as regards abortion and same-sex marriage. For instance in Baltimore, there was the instance of the mayor speaking in favor of same-sex marriage.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien: In Baltimore, a couple of years ago, we had a novel requirement which would never have been dreamed of, where our pregnancy counseling centers were told by law, passed by the city council, that they had to put a sign up saying: “We do not provide birth-control or abortion services.” Why did we have to do that? That was totally arbitrary on their part, and an attempt to put us out of business in favor of Planned Parenthood. The courts so far have ruled in our favor on this.
[Moreover,] if we imitate other states that have passed legislation regarding same-sex marriage, the next step will be that we have to teach this as appropriate in all our schools, that every one of our institutions has to accept the principle, and the reality in their communities and wherever they work. The next step will be as it is in European countries: if you speak openly about the immorality of same-sex marriage, you’re open to prosecution. It’s a slippery slope, and it’s certainly going to happen.
The basic thing is, that to compare this to discrimination by race, discrimination by color — that’s pigmentation, that’s real discrimination. But we’re talking about the basic fundamental institution of marriage from the very beginning, from Scriptures and through civilized nations has [always] been between a man and a woman open to children. When we try out of sympathy or emotion to change that, it’s a huge and dangerous initiative, and one that is dangerous for our future.
ZENIT: As the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, could you speak about the conflicts that are going on in the Holy Land, and how the Church in Rome can be present to the Christians there?
Cardinal-designate O’Brien: My responsibility will be to support the Christian institutions in the Holy Land, primarily — but not exclusively — as they relate to the patriarch of Jerusalem. And to encourage members of the order to take interest in what’s going on there: [such as] the diminishing number of Christians, and the many obligations we have in schools and hospitals, seminaries, the obligations we’ve taken on to support these Christian institutions, and many Catholic institutions, and the people living there. [With] so few people living there, help has to come from outside. That is the principle goal that I will have: to educate, to encourage members of the order to take greater interest — not only by their donations, and by their participation in the activities of the order, but certainly by pilgrimage.
Our main emphasis is the personal sanctity of every member of the order. If we accomplish that — and have that especially [present] in this upcoming Year of Faith — and work on the new evangelization with the various lieutenancies and members of our order, I think the rest will fall into place. Our attention and our help to the institutions in the Holy Land and our patriarch there will follow pretty quickly. We’re doing a lot already, but throughout the Church, this new evangelization reminds us that we never are where we should be. There’s always more we can do, and we should not presume without grace. And grace is available to us, and I think there will be many graces during this Year of Faith.
Cardinal-designate O’Brien: From 1997-2007 I was the archbishop for the military services, which includes 1.5 million Catholics in the armed forces of the United States and their families, and veterans’ hospitals, over 170 of them. Archbishop Broglio is now the military ordinary, and he’s doing a wonderful job. Our biggest problem is bringing the faith to our brave and generous men and women of our armed forces and their families. And without priests we can’t do that adequately. We should have more than 800 priests serving in all the branches, and we’re well below 300 right now. And it’s still diminishing.
There are some good signs of vocations; Archbishop Broglio has done wonderful work, and I think there are over 30 seminarians now studying. They will belong to the various dioceses of the country, but after three years of ordination they will join the military. That’s a first, it’s a huge step forward. And I hope that, as a result of the experiences that some of our men have had in combat, and in the armed forces, the sense of generosity, of self-sacrifice, of discipline, there are ample signs that vocations are coming as a result of the reality of sin and hardship and suffering that’s taken place, and the importance of the Church to meet those needs. I think that’s what our young people are going to respond to when it comes to vocations.
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, FEB. 28, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In recent years, religion has come to be seen as a problem or a threat to national or international security. One strategy for countering religious extremism has been to attempt to banish faith to the purely private sphere. This is a big mistake, according to a report released Feb. 23 by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The report, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: A New Imperative for U.S. Foreign Policy,” was authored by a task force of 32 experts, ranging from former government officials, religious leaders, heads of international organizations, and scholars.
Currently, the authors of the report argued, the U.S. government does not have the capacity to fully understand and effectively engage religious communities. There have been improvements in the past years in recognizing the role religion plays in global affairs, but this process is still far from complete.
For better or worse, religion is playing an increasingly influential role in politics, the report observed. The trend to globalization along with new media technologies has facilitated the spread of extremist views. This is not about to go away, the report noted, and it urged the U.S. government not only to improve its knowledge of religious communities and trends, but also to develop better policies to engage believers.
It’s important to realize, the report commented, that religion is not some kind of a secondary human experience without any bearing on political developments and that we can therefore ignore. “Religion — through its motivating ideas and the mobilizing power of its institutions — is a driver of politics in its own right,” the report affirmed.
The report also warned against viewing religion solely through the focus of terrorism, as this would lead to overlooking the positive role of religion in dealing with global problems and promoting peace.
It’s also necessary to move beyond a focus just on the Muslim world and to take into account other religious communities, the report said.
While attention is often focused on the Middle East when it comes to the interaction between religion and politics the report pointed out that religion is a factor in many other countries.
China, for example, has a number of indigenous new religious movements such as Falun Gong as well as a rapidly-growing sector of legal and underground Christian churches and Muslim communities.
Buddhist monks have justified, and even promoted, conflict against Tamils in Sri Lanka, as well as marching against a repressive regime in Burma. Tensions between Christian and Muslims exist in Nigeria, and Indonesia, but also in European cities like London, Amsterdam, and Paris.
In India political debates are often influenced by different visions of Hinduism and the proper relationship of Hindus to other ethnic and religious communities.
The rise of Pentecostalism in Latin America and of Christian churches and preachers in Africa and Asia are other important religious developments that warrant attention, the report added.
And while religion has fomented bloody conflicts in countries such as Bosnia and Sudan, it has also promoted peace and forgiveness in South Africa and Northern Ireland. Alongside religious extremists there are other figures such as Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama, the report noted.
“The many examples of religious contributions to democratization and of religious leaders who help provide foreign assistance, implement development programs, and build peace are emblematic of how religion can play a positive role everywhere in the world,” the task force affirmed.
The members of the task force identified six principal patterns in the role religion plays in international affairs.
1. The influence of religious groups — some old and others new — is growing in many areas of the world and affects virtually all sectors of society.
2. Changing patterns of religious identification in the world are having significant political implications.
3. Religion has benefited and been transformed by globalization, but it also has become a primary means of organizing opposition to it.
4. Religion is playing an important public role where governments lack capacity and legitimacy in periods of economic and political stress.
5. Religion is often used by extremists as a catalyst for conflict and a means of escalating tensions with other religious communities.
6. The growing salience of religion today is deepening the political significance of religious freedom as a universal human right and a source of social and political stability.
In more concrete terms the report pointed out how these trends can present challenges in making policy decisions. For example, while the United States supports the spread of democracy, in some countries the introduction of popular elections could give greater power to religious extremists who often have anti-American views. So there needs to be a reconciliation between the promotion of human rights and democracy with protecting national interests, according to the task force.
The report also pointed out that the promotion of religious freedom as part of the foreign policy of the United States needs to be done in a way that is not seen as some kind of challenge by Western society on local religions or customs.
In dealing with religion’s role in public affairs the report advocated that the best way to counter extremism is through a greater engagement with religion and religious communities.
This means listening carefully to the concerns and fears they have and then entering into a substantive dialogue with them. At the same time it’s important not to overstep this dialogue by intervening in theological disputes or by trying to manipulate religion, the task force warned.
One of the most important things the United States must do, the report noted, is to learn how to communicate effectively. Therefore, in addition to listening to what religious communities are saying government needs to be more effective in presenting America’s own views. It’s also vital to keep in mind that actions often speak louder than words, so government policies must back up its media strategy, the report added.
Among the measures proposed in the report was the need to give a comprehensive instruction to diplomats, military personnel and other officials, on the role of religion in world affairs.
The report also recommended that the United States continue to promote religious freedom. “Imposed limitations on religious freedom weaken democracy and civil society, poison political discourse, and foment extremism,” the task force commented.
Religion’s role in politics was a theme touched upon by Benedict XVI in his Jan. 11 address to the members of the diplomatic corps.
“Sadly, in certain countries, mainly in the West, one increasingly encounters in political and cultural circles, as well in the media, scarce respect and at times hostility, if not scorn, directed towards religion and towards Christianity in particular,” he commented.
Echoing the views expressed in the Chicago Council report the Pontiff said that: “It is clear that if relativism is considered an essential element of democracy, one risks viewing secularity solely in the sense of excluding or, more precisely, denying the social importance of religion.”
Such an approach, however, only creates confrontation and division, the Pope pointed out. “There is thus an urgent need to delineate a positive and open secularity which, grounded in the just autonomy of the temporal order and the spiritual order, can foster healthy cooperation and a spirit of shared responsibility,” he urged. A cooperation that will greatly benefit efforts to promote peace in the world.
The Influence of Religion on American Politics
By Father John Flynn, L.C.
ROME, OCT. 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- The volatile mix of religion and politics is heating up as the 2008 presidential election in the United States draws closer. Candidates are being quizzed about what will be the consequences of their beliefs, while the media and pressure groups are anxiously scrutinizing politicians and voters alike.
A book published earlier this year gives a useful background study of the relationship between faith and politics. “The Faith Factor: How Religion Influences American Elections” (Praeger), was written by John C. Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
Religion had a big impact in the 2004 presidential elections, argues Green. Members of conservative religious groups voted strongly for President George Bush. He adds, however, that the pejorative labeling of these groups as “fundamentalist” by some in the media is an unjustified oversimplification.
A 2004 survey showed that just 10.8% of the American adult population identified themselves as Protestant fundamentalists. Moreover, Green adds that a good number of these do not exhibit fundamentalist characteristics such as biblical literalism. Therefore, he puts at only 4.5% of the adult population those who could accurately be termed as fundamentalists.
Media attention tended to focus on just a few conservative Christian groups, without taking into account the full range of voters for whom religion and moral values played a part in determining how they voted.
Religion, in fact, has a long history of influencing politics in the United States. In the past, it was often linked to ethnic groups, such as the Irish Catholic involvement in big-city politics. In more recent times, many of the ethnic groups have assimilated into society, but membership of a religious denomination continues to play an important role in determining beliefs, values and voting patterns.
Active or passive?
There are also, however, divisions within religious groups, so they should not be regarded as monolithic blocs when it comes to voting, Green explained. One important factor in determining to what extent religion will influence voting patterns is the degree to which an individual is an active member of a religious group.
Thus, in terms of electoral behavior, a Catholic who is a regular Mass attendee has more in common with regular worship attendees in other religions than with less observant Catholics.
Another factor that has a strong influence in determining the extent to which religion will influence political behavior is the degree to which someone actively supports, by donating either money or time, a religious group. Whether an individual has an active prayer life is another important consideration.
Nonetheless, Green notes that religion is only one of many factors that help explain how someone votes. In reply to exit polls in the 2004 presidential elections, just under a quarter of voters did indicate that moral values were a priority for them in deciding which candidate to support. This category, however, comes only in third place, after foreign and economic policy, which people identified as priorities.
Religion will continue to be an important factor in coming years, Green predicts. Divisions over abortion, marriage and other moral values show no sign of diminishing. Moreover, political operators in both major parties are well aware of the need to mobilize religiously-oriented voters and will continue in their efforts to activate the faith vote.
Within the Catholic world, a divisive issue in the religion and politics debate is how to treat Catholic politicians who are manifestly pro-abortion. A recent contribution to the question came from Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, in an essay published in Volume 96 of the canon-law journal Periodica de Re Canonica.
The article, titled “The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin,” noted the differences in opinion, including among bishops themselves, over whether support for anti-life legislation should disqualify a politician from receiving Communion.
After a detailed analysis of Church teaching on the question of Communion and those in grave sin, Archbishop Burke concludes that “a person who obstinately remains in public and grievous sin is appropriately presumed by the Church to lack the interior bond of communion, the state of grace, required to approach worthily the reception of the Holy Eucharist.”
A consistent public support of policies that are in grave violation of moral law, he pointed out, can indeed be classified as “gravely sinful.”
The archbishop clarified, however, that denying Communion in these circumstances should not be interpreted as a penal sanction against the person, but rather it is concerned with respect for the Eucharist.
The United States, Archbishop Burke commented, is a society that “canonizes” radical individualism and relativism, thus making it very difficult to apply sanctions such as denying Communion.
Notwithstanding these difficulties, if a bishop or priest preaches Church teaching on life matters, but does nothing when a Catholic who publicly supports anti-life legislation comes to receive Communion, “then his teaching rings hollow,” Archbishop Burke judged.
Too many Christians
Conflicts over religion and politics occur in many other countries, of course. In Australia, where national elections will shortly take place, Prime Minister John Howard and opposition leader Kevin Rudd recently addressed, via an Internet hookup, 770 churches across the country.
After their debate, Senator Lyn Allison, the leader of the Democrats, complained that there were too many Christians active in politics, reported The Australian newspaper on Aug. 10.
On Aug. 7, the Australian bishops published a brief statement to help guide Catholics in the national elections. The document focused on a number of issues that the bishops argued are of vital concern. Subjects such as respect for life, support for the family, education, health and the environment were among those raised.
“We encourage Catholics to look beyond their own individual needs and apply a different test at the ballot box — the test of the common good,” the bishops urged.
Meanwhile, in Argentina, another country preparing for national elections, on Aug. 23 the bishops reaffirmed the validity of a statement they had issued in April. Our Catholic faith, they stated, calls us to grow in our commitments as citizens. Christians should discover their vocation in favor of the common good, they recommended.
The document called for human life and the family to be protected. Poverty and inequality, along with a need to avoid excessive divisions within society, were other points mentioned.
Our faith in the risen Christ, the bishops stated, should motivate us to renew our lives and live them according to the principles of truth, liberty, justice and solidarity.
Benedict XVI also recently addressed these matters in a speech made Sept. 21 to participants of a meeting of Centrist Democrat International.
Justice is truly human, the Pontiff affirmed, “only when the ethical and moral vision grounding it is centered on the human person and his inalienable dignity.”
After referring to issues of the economy, safeguarding life and the family, the Pope warned that when truth or the family is undermined, then “peace itself is threatened and the rule of law is compromised, leading inevitably to forms of injustice and violence.”
Religious liberty is another vital issue to defend, he continued. “Openness to transcendence is an indispensable guarantee of human dignity since within every human heart there are needs and desires which find their fulfillment in God alone,” said the Pope.
The Church’s social teaching, Benedict XVI explained, is motivated by love for humanity and a desire to contribute to a world which respects the dignity and rights of all people. An objective all can share, even though they may not agree about the best way to achieve it.
Interview With Mark Miravalle
ROME, SEPT. 25, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Violations of human rights and religious freedom continue to be widespread in China, says the author of a book on the Asian country.
Mark Miravalle, a professor of theology and Mariology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, traveled to China last summer and saw firsthand the daily struggles of the people and the faithful in the country.
In this interview with ZENIT, he talks about his book “The Seven Sorrows of China” (Queenship Publications), and some of the testimonies from underground Church clergy, religious and laity, as well as a confidential interview with an underground bishop.
Q: What led you to visit China and write this book on the situation there?
Miravalle: I went to China with the sole intention of helping friends there who were taking in terminally ill abandoned orphans and caring for them in a Mother Teresa-type manner.
Each day instead brought with it an encounter with the horrific violations of human dignity and religious freedom that have been significantly neglected in the secular media’s recent portrayal of a “new democratic and open” China. I found the opposite to be the case.
Women are being forced to have abortions by the population police in every province. Bishops and priests who refuse to cooperate with the government-run Chinese patriotic church are oftentimes hounded down, arrested, imprisoned and sometimes tortured.
Underground seminaries are at times no more than an abandoned building without electricity or heat. Religious and human-rights violations are ubiquitous.
Q: What are the seven sorrows of China that you refer to in the title of your book?
Miravalle: The seven sorrows represent seven categories or concrete cases of oppression presently being experienced by the Chinese people. For example, one sorrow conveys the account of a woman I met in a secret refugee house for pregnant women who wanted to have their babies in spite of government prohibitions. She had to flee the house in her hospital gown and rush into a taxi held by a Catholic religious sister in order to save her baby from abortion.
Another sorrow refers to an underground bishop who risked his life to give an interview so that the West could know the real story about religious persecution in China. Still another sorrow tells of a small Catholic village that, through Catholic solidarity Chinese-style, are having large families and public Catholic liturgies in spite of the one-child policy and government opposition to unsanctioned public religious gatherings.
Love of our Blessed Mother was so frequently referred to by members of the underground Church. I could not help but think of how her heart, pierced seven times historically because of the innocent suffering of her divine Son, continues to be pierced mystically as she observes the unjust suffering of the noble Chinese people. She sees Jesus in each innocent Chinese person tortured, abused, aborted. So should we.
Q: What about the fact that Beijing has been awarded the 2008 Olympics? Isn’t the Chinese government trying to convince the West that it is more open and democratic?
Miravalle: This is precisely the question I asked the underground bishop I was able to interview.
We met secretly in an impoverished family dwelling near his cathedral, as he had numerous police watching the cathedral. His answer was, “The Chinese government is like the fox that goes up to the chicken and says, ‘Happy New Year,’ and then devours the chicken. We are not free to practice our Catholic faith. I have been imprisoned for a total of 20 years, where I have experienced hard labor, and witnessed the torture and killing of priests and laity.”
When I suggested that perhaps it would be imprudent to include the reference to 20 years in prison for fear that it would break his anonymity, he said there would be no problem including this fact since all underground bishops have spent approximately 20 years in prison for refusing to compromise their Catholic faith and their loyalty to the Holy Father.
Q: Did the underground bishop have any comment on Benedict XVI’s recent letter to the Church in China?
Miravalle: Yes, the bishop had received a copy of the letter just a few days before our interview. The Chinese government blocked all Web sites, including the Vatican Web site, that posted the Holy Father’s letter, but the underground Church has its information networks.
The bishop praised Benedict XVI’s letter for its wisdom and prudence. In fact, my interview with the bishop was interrupted 10 minutes after it began, because regional police came to the cathedral searching for the bishop. The people at the house were afraid they were taking the bishop back to prison.
A half-hour later, the bishop returned to our clandestine meeting place, and told me the police had come to warn him not to say anything publicly about the Pope’s letter. The bishop then smiled and commented how the inevitable could not be stopped.
Q: What about the government’s one-child policy? How is this being enforced?
Miravalle: I received testimonies from women who had gone to the hospital nine months pregnant and in labor, but without the government’s certificate allowing for birth. After consultation with the population police, a doctor or nurse would re-enter the room with a needle and inject a substance into the abdomen of the woman, which would instantaneously kill the unborn child.
Other married couples would return home from the hospital with their second child and find their home burned to the ground. Still others would be forced to pay high fines or return to homes where everything was removed, including windows and doors, except for the kitchen table.
Does this sound like a new, democratic, religion-respecting government? What if any of our Western families received this type of treatment for trying to bring a beautiful new baby into the world?
Just last week, another underground bishop died in prison and his body was cremated six hours later in the middle of the night. Was there something to hide? What if this happened to one of our bishops in the West?
Q: Did you see any signs of hope for the Church in China during your visit?
Miravalle: Yes. In a few remarkable villages within provinces known for their heroic stands of faith and martyrdom for our Catholic faith under untold persecution, many families had multiple children and public Masses and Marian processions.
I flew to one particular village and interviewed the parish priest, asking how this was possible in light of Beijing’s one-child policy. He answered, “Here, we are united. The priests would die for the bishop, and people would die and have died for their bishop and priests, and the bishop is completely loyal to the Holy Father. We are so united that they would have to wipe us all out, and they will not do that now.”
I asked the parish priest and religious sister translating for us, what makes this village different. They responded: “We rely on the Eucharist, Our Lady, and the blood and prayers of the martyrs before us. Here we are Catholic. If you do not follow the Holy Father, then you are not Catholic.”
Q: What can the Church in the West do to help the Church in China?
Miravalle: Our hearts should feel pierced as we hear of the daily plight of our Chinese Catholic brothers and sisters. This should lead to committed daily prayer for the Church and the people of China.
I also asked the underground bishop this question. He said, “Pray, pray for the Chinese Church. Finances can help, but most of all, pray.”
The bishop added that Communism is not the only evil facing his people.
He shared: “In the last few years, my people are being affected with a secular, worldly idea of happiness, that they can find their ultimate happiness in this life. They have lost their desire for prayer and sacrifice. This is an even greater danger than the Communist government.”
The bishop then exhorted, “Pray to Our Lady, Maria! She is the remedy for the situation in China. It is like the battle in the Book of Revelation, between the woman and the dragon. It is first a spiritual, cosmic battle. Pray to Our Lady for China.”