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Wang speaks about Catholics in China

Matt Bramanti | Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Catholic Church’s first Asian-American bishop, Ignatius Wang, spoke Monday about relations between Eastern and Western culture and traditional religion in the Jordan Auditorium at the Mendoza College of Business.

The Beijing-born bishop discussed the history of Catholicism in China and in his own family. Wang represents the 13th generation of Catholics in his family, and Western missionaries converted his ancestor, an emperor of China, to Catholicism.

However, controversy soon arose in the Chinese church, said Wang, as the Vatican condemned ancestor veneration, which was widely practiced among Chinese Buddhists and Christians at the time. This prohibition lasted for 300 years, until Pope Pius XII declared the rituals secular and not in conflict with Catholic doctrine.

In 1974 Wang arrived in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, becoming the first Chinese-American pastor in that diocese. In December of last year, Pope John Paul II appointed Wang auxiliary bishop of San Francisco.

Wang instituted celebrations for the Chinese New Year that blended Catholic liturgy with traditional ancestor veneration for the Chinese Catholic community in San Francisco. These celebrations provoked an unexpected backlash among Chinese clergy and laity in the diocese, prompting Wang to rethink the relationship between Eastern and Western Catholics.

“We have to tell people that Catholicism is for the whole universe,” he said.

Wang said he began an approach of “enculturation,” encouraging the Church and Chinese culture to adapt to each other.

He also addressed the modern Christian movement in mainland China. The Patriotic Church, which is approved and monitored by the Communist government, officially does not answer to the pope in Rome, while “underground” churches operate without government approval. Wang downplayed this conflict, noting that Patriotic churches and bishops have frequently received secret approval and instructions from the Holy See.

The bishop expressed hope that such divisions, as well as other problems facing the church, would disappear with the cooperation and prayers of the faithful. “We must work to eliminate whatever in contrary to Christ’s teaching,” he said.

The Office of Campus Ministry and the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism jointly sponsored Wang’s address.