The Church in China is an incredibly complicated affair. In some ways it is like someone from China trying to figure out the many divisions within the Church in the USA.
But I was blessed to speak with many priests and religious about the Church in China and at the least, get the varied opinions on where the Church is in China. Plus I had time where I just hung out with Chinese Catholics.
There is still a division between the open church and the underground church in China. Despite the pope's recent letter to Chinese Catholics, reconciliation has been incredibly difficult. The difficulties come from both sides and from the current situation with the government. I think there can often be doubts about whether the Catholics in the open church are faithful to all the teachings of the faith, among others, recognition of the pope's office. But the reality is that the Chinese Catholics love the Holy Father like any other group of Catholics. Everywhere I went his picture was up, though not necessarily his nicest photo, and everywhere they prayed for and with the Holy Father. I spoke with a sister who had debated entering an open or underground church convent. She listened to the words of the Holy Father and realized she could join the open church convent without rejecting any part of her faith. I spent all my time with Catholics in the open Church. It is impossible at this point to even consider visiting underground Catholics.
There is a lot of hope for the Church in China. I met most of the seminarians for the Diocese of Jilin. They are good men desiring to serve the Lord with their whole hearts. I also met a number of the younger priests of Jilin who are striving to be men of God at the service of the Church. They have difficulty with vocations like we do though their problem is also in part because of the one child policy.
I visited the main religious order in Jilin, the Sisters of the Holy Family, who do basically any kind of work the Bishop of Jilin assigns. They are working hard yet also struggling for vocations.
I met a few very old Chinese sisters who survived the Culture Revolution. Some spent up to 18 years in forced labor, tempted with good jobs and benefits if they would only give up their faith. But they never gave up or surrendered. They continued in the faith. What a witness to the faith!
I also met a 94 year old priest who gave us seminarians the following advice about priesthood.
1, keep a regular schedule that is rooted in being with the people.
2, have a regular and strong regimen of prayer.
3, stay close to the Blessed Mother.
And then he added the extra comment, watch your relationships with women. :)
We visited 3 very Catholic villages where at least 500 people went to Mass daily. It was amazing to see and to meet so many faithful and zealous Catholics. One of these villages is responsible for over 7 seminarians, 20 priests, and 40 sisters in Jilin.
I also saw the amazing work Maryknoll is doing in China to bring people to the faith. I cannot mention specifics but I can say that there is a great openness to the faith and many conversions taking place. The Holy Spirit is very active. I myself had some great conversations with people about the Christian faith. All I did was speak about my own encounter with God in life and how God brought me to the place I am today.
My own perspective of the Church in China is that it is young and growing. They are facing difficulties, not always the same as ours in the U.S., but nevertheless trusting in the grace of God. In a way, it felt a bit like seeing the early Church where the difficulties are many but the zeal and passion for the faith is there and spurring on the spread of the Gospel.
This experience in China has given me a greater zeal for the missions, to encourage missionary work, and to pray for the missions. I think it is a challenge for us all to continue to have a missionary spirit in everything that we do, realizing the call of Christ for all of us is to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth.