Madrid, Spain, Nov 17, 2017 / 12:15 am (ACI Prensa).- Fr. Joseph of Jesus is a Chinese priest, faithful to the Catholic Church. Life is not easy for Catholics in China. Those who adhere to Rome are persecuted by the Chinese government, which only grants freedom of worship to those belonging to the state-controlled Patriotic Church.
Fr. Joseph recently shared his story on the “In the Footsteps of the Nazarene” program by the EUK Mamie Foundation, run by the Home of the Mother of Youth congregation of religious sisters.
His back faces the camera in the interview, and the precise details of his life in China, as well as his precise location – he is currently in Europe – are withheld for security reasons.
Fr. Joseph described what it was like growing up in a Catholic family in China. He is the third of five children, despite the rigid one-child policy instituted by the Chinese government.
“From time to time when the police would come into town, my parents had to go into hiding, away from us,” he said. “My older brother took care of us, we also had to hide everything we had in the house, because if the government discovered there was more than one child, they could take everything away from us.”
“Because they had more than one child, some Catholic parents had their houses destroyed and they were left with nothing,” the priest said.
“It was a test of faith, because as a child you don't understand why it is that because you're Catholic you have to live on less food and be separated from your parents,” he said.
However, he still persevered in his faith. His brother is also a Catholic priest.
The Catholic faith was maintained through “the domestic Church,” with families praying Lauds or Vespers secretly, and especially the Rosary.
“The Rosary is what gave us the strength for years because we didn't have the sacraments or priests; but the faithful prayed every day at least one Rosary in the early morning and another one at night,” and at the end they said a “prayer to Our Lady of Fatima who gave us the strength to live as true Christians,” he recounted.
At age 15, Fr. Joseph felt that he was being called to the priesthood.
“I was thinking that in China there are a lot of people who don't know Christ and the Catholic Church because we Christians are a minority,” he said. “So I thought that when I finished my studies I would go to the seminary and become a priest. That moment changed my life because I saw what the Lord wanted for me.”
He was inspired in his decision by the local pastor in the area, a dedicated priest responsible for 60 villages, who would celebrate Mass in the five largest villages, traveling from one to the next by bicycle.
“He's an example of faithfulness to Christ and the Church because he didn't want to be part of the official Chinese church and consequently he had to spend some time in prison or under house arrest,” Fr. Joseph said.
However, the priest accepted the sufferings that came to him, Fr. Joseph said, adding that at more than 80 years of age, that priest still wakes up at 3:30 every morning to pray and celebrate Mass.
“His exemplary life was decisive for me in finding my vocation. He is a priest for everyone, with such exemplary dedication.”
For more than 60 years, Catholics have faced persecution in China. The government-endorsed church, known as the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association” is loyal to Chinese communist authorities, who claim the right to decide whom to appoint as bishops, an authority that the Catholic Church reserves to the Pope.
Catholics who choose to remain loyal to Rome, particularly to the Pope’s juridical authority to appoint bishops autonomously, make up the “underground Church,” with its own bishops, priests, and lay faithful.
“There are…30 bishops of the underground Church who are not recognized by the state and so they cannot freely exercise their ministry,” Fr. Joseph said. “They are under house arrest and under surveillance, there are people who monitor their visits, whom they meet and their topics of conversation. Priestly ordinations are done in secret with no else knowing about it.”
Being part of the Catholic Patriotic Association would make life easier – with public Masses, a regular schedule, and the right to worship freely. But Fr. Joseph chooses to remain loyal to Rome despite the hardships.
“Fundamentally it's not the same because the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic,” he said. “The Patriotic Church is independent from Rome and I can't accept that, because of my faith.”
Challenges abound, but the life of underground Christians in China is a witness of faith, Fr. Joseph said.
He asked for prayers that Chinese Christians may remain faithful, because “they teach us that the faith is much more precious than life, and that in living the faith we encounter Christ. We have to bear witness to those around us so those who don't know the faith can find it.”
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA