October 28, 1997
The Honorable Madeleine K. Albright
Secretary of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Dear Madame Secretary,
It is a matter of some satisfaction, which I know you share, that Bishop James Su Zhimin of Baoding has been released by the Chinese authorities. I am grateful for the efforts made on his behalf by our government, and I write today to encourage you to continue pressing the issue of religious freedom with President Jiang Zemin whenever the occasion arises.
The issue that should concern us is not simply the arrest or detention of a few high profile church leaders, although their cases clearly do merit attention, given the harsh treatment accorded several elderly bishops and priests in recent years. The broader issue is the excessive control that the government seeks to maintain over the internal life of those Catholics who choose to practice their faith without the intrusive interference of the state.
Not only should the unregistered Catholic churches be free to worship as conscience dictates, causing neither harm nor scandal to anyone, but the ability to communicate freely with their co-religionists abroad, normal with all faiths that proclaim a universal identity as does the Catholic Church, should be unquestioned.
Despite some improvement in religious freedom since the harshest years of the Cultural Revolution, there still remains a profound lack of understanding on the part of the Chinese authorities as to the meaning of religious faith and the role of the Christian churches. Late last year, Pope John Paul II appealed to the Chinese authorities to grant legal status to the whole Catholic Church in that country, and urged them to be afraid "neither of God nor of his Church," asking them "with a sense of deference, to respect the authentic freedom which is the birthright of every man and woman, and to allow believers in Christ to be able to contribute their energies and talents to the development of the nation."
Finally, it would represent a considerable further improvement if the Chinese authorities would permit a representative of the Holy See to take up residence in Beijing, thus allowing for a far healthier understanding to develop between the Church and the government of the Peoples Republic of China.
With deep appreciation for your efforts in these matters, I remain
(Rev.) Drew Christiansen, S.J.
Director, USCC Office of
International Justice and Peace