In his first piece for The Atlantic, Adam Minter has written an in-depth and sympathetic profile of Aloysius Jin Luxian, bishop of Shanghai, who was approved by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association but not appointed by the Vatican. Minter begins the piece with an extended description of Jin’s return, after years of imprisonment, to the cathedral where he had been ordained:
On a June day in 1982, Father Aloysius Jin Luxian, a 66-year-old Jesuit just released from prison, walked into Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral for the first time in 27 years. In his youth, the building had been one of the great churches in East Asia, celebrated for its delicate Gothic arches and colorful stained glass. Now the color was gone, replaced by clear glass and harsh sunlight that bleached the cracked columns and tiled floor. The steeples, once among the tallest in Shanghai, were missing, as was the altar beneath which he’d been ordained, in 1945. Jin had spent nearly three decades under house arrest, in reeducation camps, and in prison, so he had few illusions about the Chinese Communist Party’s attitude toward religion. But the damage to the church was still hard to bear. St. Ignatius, he learned, had been converted to a grain warehouse during the Cultural Revolution, and the authorities had spent three days burning most of the diocese’s Catholic books in front of the church.
Minter’s report describes the difficult choices Jin had to make in the years since his return to that cathedral, especially in striving for an enculturated Catholicism. Minter explains that struggle well in an interview with Abigail Cutler of The Atlantic Online:
I think you’d be hard pressed to find any Catholic in the world who would say they thought Mao was good for Chinese Catholicism. But on the other hand, the fact that China threw out the missionaries and allowed Chinese Catholics to assume authority over Chinese dioceses was very important and remains, to this day, a matter of pride for many Chinese. So when Jin talks about the identity crisis he felt in 1949 and in the decades that followed, he’s also talking about the tension he and his peers felt under European control — the idea that if you were a Catholic, you had to be part of the European colonial enterprise. Come 1949, I think many Chinese Catholics — especially those of Jin’s generation — desperately wanted a way to assert themselves.
Minter tells a complicated story that eventually includes the Vatican’s recognition of Jin as a bishop. The high quality of Minter’s coverage is perhaps best explained in how he answers when Cutler asks whether he has a particular interest in reporting on religion:
I find it to be an interesting topic. My specific interest in Catholicism in China comes from my seeing it as the perfect laboratory through which to examine how Chinese civilization interacts with Western civilization. I think there’s probably no institution that epitomizes the West more perfectly than the Catholic Church. Certainly, it’s the oldest Western institution. The role it’s played in China — as far back as the sixteenth century — and the role it continues to play today is just fascinating to me. In addition to that, I find religion interesting in its own right; I also like talking to religious people — especially religious leaders — because they tend to be thoughtful people.