The final Mass of World Youth Day was a sea of national flags. In the million-strong crowd, however, it was hard to find one particular flag – China. That’s until CNA bumped into Thomas Zeng.
“This week has been absolutely fascinating,” said the university student who’s traveled all the way from Shanghai to be at World Youth Day in Madrid. Thomas says he doesn’t know of any other pilgrims from China.
“It is wonderful that I can meet so many Catholics, more than one million. That could never happen in my country, but I believe with the grace of God that it will one day.”
Thomas is actually one of 8 to 12 million Chinese Catholics. About half of them, though, have ties to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a state agency founded in 1957.
Many bishops now belong to the Patriotic Association while maintaining communion with the Holy See, but the association’s principles of independence and strong nationalism make this position difficult. The Patriotic Association has recently ordained several bishops without Vatican approval.
Thomas says it’s “not difficult to be a Catholic in China.” But to be “a good Catholic,” he notes, might be a different matter: “If you want to proclaim (Catholicism), you will maybe be in trouble.”
“I think after today I think I will be more brave to proclaim Jesus Christ to my friends, my classmates,” says the student of management science at his home city’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University, adding that he will no longer “be so afraid.”