Are people allowed to go to Mass in China? Do people go to jail because they are Catholic in China? Are there Bibles in China? Many people are unfamiliar with and often misinformed about the life Catholics are permitted to live in the People’s Republic of China. Their ideas regarding the political situation of China match those of the past reality and not those of the present. It is important, therefore, to update people about the political scheme surrounding Catholicism in China.
I will speak in the first-person in this article and explain my experience, knowledge, and observations of what Catholics are and are not allowed to do in China as well as the relationship between the government and the Church in China. Before coming to China, I was unsure of what truly to expect, and I even feared what the government would do if they knew my beliefs as a Catholic. I did not know if I could even bring a Bible into the country.
However, after entering China three times on different occasions and passing through customs, I realized that not only did they not check my bags for religious items, they did not check my bags at all. I could have brought a hundred Bibles into the country. They simply do not care. Even if there are laws regarding what can be brought into the country, which I do not know about, they do not enforce them.
After spending a couple days in Shanghai, I began looking for churches in which to attend Mass. I found Saint Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai. Yes, there are many cathedrals in China, with bishops. From my experience, all the churches I have visited seem not to be part of the government-run fake catholic church. They all seem to have been genuinely Catholic. However, the relationship between individual priests and bishops with the government is uncertain. One local woman who was about in her sixties or so explained to me in English that some priests are loyal to the Chinese government and some are loyal to Rome. I think the average person, however, cannot tell who follows whom. The main content of the Mass appears to be exactly the same as it is everywhere else in the world, so one cannot tell by the Mass alone.
Many people believe that the Church is underground in China. Everything I have mentioned so far has been the aboveground Catholicism. The same Chinese woman did tell me that there is an underground Church with a bishop. They are Catholic and are loyal to the pope and do not follow any of the restrictions the government tries to place on them. They remain underground because if they were to do what they do aboveground, they would most likely be imprisoned. The government does, in fact, restrict the actions and movements of certain priests, bishops, and even seminarians, not allowing them to visit certain people and places at times. I have heard this from many different people. This can be frustrating, though we must remember how much China has improved in recent years and pray for a continued change toward religious freedom.
Although the government sometimes uses a strong arm against religious leaders, the average person is left untouched. I have seen many smalls groups of people walking in the streets wearing shirts with Christian messages on them. Perhaps, the acceptance by the government of Christianity at the local level is because of the increasing number of population and ideas coming from the West, but I cannot tell exactly why. It could be that the government sees some economic or political gain by allowing Christianity in a general sense in China. Either way, what the Chinese government seems not to want is large demonstrations that challenge or threaten their power.
Catholics are allowed to go to Mass in China. They do not go to jail because they are openly Catholic. Bibles are in many places and can be purchased at many churches. Most Catholics can live the same way in China as they would be able to live in many other countries of the world. Although the communist government sometimes will assert its power, Catholicism still lives and operates in China in a vibrant and pleasant way.