As a development worker at St. Columbans, Nebraska, I have the privilege of contacting
Columban benefactors and expressing gratitude for their partnership in the mission work of the Church and Columban missionaries. Sometimes these calls include conversations about current missionary initiatives and conditions overseas. Recently, there have been some questions about whether there are Catholics in China and whether there were priests in China. The few lines following are an attempt to answer those inquiries.
On August 15, 2014, Pope Francis flew over the People’s Republic of China. He sent a diplomatic message to President Xi Jinping. The permission to enter Chinese airspace was unprecedented for a Pontiff. Some Catholics in China knew about the Pope’s airplane flying above.
Who are these Catholics in China? They are a small group of lively and active believers in the Catholic Church scattered in a vast nation. A recent guidebook about the Catholic Church in China lists the parishes, priests, places of pilgrimage, dioceses and provides a brief history of each of the provinces of China.
Now the numbers of Catholics are tiny, miniscule compared to the grand population of 1.3 billion people. Catholics are said to number 12 million which is a small percentage in the large country of China.
There are 3,500 priests to provide sacraments to this scattered population of Catholics. And, the religious Sisters number about 5000 and offer their services to the Church by running kindergartens, homes for the elderly and other pastoral activities.
The Catholics of China have been early responders to natural disasters. The earthquakes and floods in the western provinces have received food, tents and personal assistance from Catholics in China. There are six thousand Churches and chapels open in China. Some of these are staffed by priests. Other places are looked after by the local Catholics in the villages and towns.
The Catholic Church has its share of challenges and blessings in China. They seek further study, and training options to enhance their small groups and congregations. Like their contemporaries, Catholic Church leaders have sought further studies abroad. News stories report Chinese students studying in high schools and colleges and universities in the U.S. There have been some opportunities for Catholic Church leaders to study in seminaries and Catholic universities.
Many more young Chinese Church leaders would like to have the chance to learn and study among their Catholic peers in this country. Financial limitations prohibit that opportunity for many promising young Church leaders.