Bringing the Local, Universal Church together as one: Solidarity with the Catholic Church in China

July 14, 2015

HOUSTON — "The Catholic Church in China is alive and well!" This was the message learned by some 50 attendees at the June 27 day-long China Church Forum held at Ascension Chinese Mission Church in Houston. 

Inspirational images explained the long history of Chinese Catholicism. To the left of the speaker's podium were Chinese characters from the ancient Nestorian stele telling of the first arrival of Christianity to China in the 7th century. To the right was a copy of the colorful brush-painted masterpiece "120 Martyr Saints of China (1648-1930)" by contemporary Taiwanese artist Monica Liu. Members of the audience included Auxiliary Bishop George A. Sheltz, Houston parishioners, a representative from Canada, as well as clergy and religious that included the Dominicans, Passionists and Maryknoll.

Supported by members at Ascension Chinese Mission, several diocesan ministries and 1430 AM KSHJ, the Martyr Saints of China Ministry made its debut on Saturday at 2015 China Church Forum as the organizer. As the first Chinese lay ministry in Houston for engaging the public, its founder, Luke Liu, a sixth generation Catholic from the People's Republic of China, defined the dual purpose of Martyr Saints of China Ministry: to educate Americans about the struggles and hope of the Church in China under Communism and to witness and evangelize local Chinese in the greater Houston area. 

On June 25, approximately 50 people attended warm-up evening lecture at Prince of Peace Catholic Community. Sharing insights on the pulse of Catholic life in Hong Kong and Beijing was Executive Director of the U.S. Catholic China Bureau Father Robert Carbonneau C.P., Ph.D.. The Berkeley, Calif.-based China Bureau is a religious non-profit and co-sponsor of the China Forum. Liu found that the introductory presentation really whet the appetite of the audience and it even drew some to the June 27 whole-day forum to learn more. Liu especially appreciated the insightful questions from the audience and the empathy shown toward the Chinese Church. "Indeed, distances were bridged," he said. 

The June 27 China Forum began with Father Carbonneau's keynote on the mission of the China Bureau. He recalled that when China reopened its door in the 1980s, people thought the Church there was dead. When it turned out that the Church was still alive, religious orders like Maryknoll, the Jesuits, the Columbans, Passionists decided to found the China Bureau in 1989. A conscious decision was to reengage with China as did 16th-century Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci. His simple approach was to build friendship and cultural understanding before anything else. 

Carbonneau explained "Like it or not, we have to deal with China, and we are all wondering how? Many times we don't have an answer.Despite the complex situation there, we learn it and deal with it simply because the Church is still full of hope." He emphasized it "their Church and one part of the Universal Church." Today, China Bureau serves as a clearinghouse to update Americans on the current developments of the Church in China through its flagship national conferences, China tours and publications."

Another keynote in the morning was given by Deacon Edward Kleinguetl from St. Martha Catholic Church in Kingwood. He shared his experience witnessing the deeply rooted faith in China and how he was welcomed from South Cathedral in Beijing to the most southern church on Hainan Island. "My favorite scene in China is personally giving communion to people. It is the most beautiful touch for me," said Deacon Kleinguetl. "The unity of humans of different races under one Creator." The speaker then highlighted how Sister Rita, a Chinese nun cosponsored by him and Columban Fathers and assisted by parishioners of Ascension and St. Martha churches, began her graduate study in the U.S. and rose to everyday challenges like "learn to use silverware" and "working six hours straight on the footnotes of her term paper.

"She is my hero," Deacon Kleinguetl said. "She is struggling for a mission: to feed the spiritual hunger in her homeland as a future spiritual director." 

Liu reflected on the "special circumstance" of the Catholic Church in China from perspectives of Catholic social teachings of peace and justice, public policy in Hong Kong and China and a personal understanding gained from his travels in China. Marisa Wu gave a succinct summary on the history of Taiwan Catholicism. Houston Lutheran Pastor Junfeng Tan offered an ecumenical dimension as he explained how Chinese and Chinese intellectuals debate issues of theism or atheism. Father Carbonneau made 20th-century China missionary history come alive by showing valuable historical photos from the Passionist China Collection. Peter Tan, a long-time supporter to Archdiocese of Galveston- Houston, recalled the unique China tour he has been offering to local Catholics for years. 

Other presentations included a recorded interview by Chinese Sister Rita. She spoke on her vocation, consecrated life and journey to America and future plans. Debbie and Steve Wang founded Queen of China Catholic Ministries in Corpus Christi, Texas, to evangelize ethnic Chinese in the diaspora through their one-of-a-kind curriculum to equip anyone with bilingual educational resources. They also offered an inspirational talk on Taiwanese Catholic aborigines. 

It was via Skype, two Chinese priests, almost their midnight, talked to the audience on their respective ministries in two separate dioceses 1,000 miles apart. Father Ren Dahai, director of Jinde's Chendu Office, the first Catholic social services agency in China among few, presented on the opportunities and challenges of their work for the most vulnerable. Father Huang — young but sophisticated, smart but humble — is the only son of his rural family and just ordained a priest! With an image of Our Lady of China as the backdrop, he shared his experience in caring for and growing flocks in his 1,000-member cathedral parish — with both limits and leeway. As two examples of new leadership in China Church, both priests received their advanced degrees in the U.S. and gave audience before the screen a "Chinese blessing." 

Many in the audience became so excited and engaged with the local priests doing great work on the ground of China. "Watching their hopeful faces and receiving their blessing from our same Church on the other side of the earth is quite an touching experience," said one attendee. "I felt the holy spirit crossing space and time."

Especially interested in the China Forum was Father Donald Nesti, CSSp, director of Center for Faith and Culture at the University of St. Thomas. In 1982 he had been among the first group of American Catholic leaders to visit China. Being reconnected to the present reality of the Church there after 33 years was quite personal. He captured the mood of many who attended the forum: "It was a huge success from all points of view. One needed only to see the genuine interest of the attendees to understand how important the theme of the forum is. Every speaker was "tops." I highly applaud the difference (the forum) made for American Catholics to rethink their roles in the universal Church." 
"Experiencing the Catholic Chinese culture this past weekend brought about, for me, a sense of cosmic unity with the saints above and those below. And for that I am grateful... Finally, I was amazed with those who attended. Point of fact, very, very few were educated in Mainland China," said Linda Briscoe from Prince of Peace. 

"Dear brother Luke," wrote attendee Jeison Cortes, a seminarian at St. Mary Seminary. "Know that China will remain in my prayers! ...I noticed the concern others had for the Church in China and felt that we all appreciated a little more the sense of belonging to a universal Church." 

"Those who attended speak different languages, come from different countries, and acted upon different callings, but they never forgot the least of their brothers," wrote attendee Madonna Lee on her blog with Salt and Light Catholic Media in Toronto, Canada. 
Bishop Sheltz shared with the audience about his personal trip to China and offered his support for the meaningful work of Chinese Catholics, as he always has for all the Asian Catholics in the Archdiocese. 

"On behalf of everyone, I very much appreciate the presence of the bishop as a symbol of solidarity with the least of brothers," Liu said. 

To learn more of local events about the Church in China, contact Luke Liu at