Review: What does the future of the church hold? Look to China.

Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, following his episcopal ordination at St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai. The Vatican and China have agreed to extend their provisional agreement signed two years ago regarding the appointment of bishops. (CNS photo/courtesy of UCAnews)

Since the Vatican announced in September 2018 that Pope Francis had reached an agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China, the fate of some 12 million Chinese Catholics—some adhering to the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and others affiliated with an “underground” church historically loyal to the Vatican—has been uncertain.

People, Communities, and the Catholic Church in Chinaby Cindy Yik-yi Chu and Paul P. Mariani (editors)

Palgrave Pivot

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This collection of informed, timely chapters edited by Professor Cindy Yik-yi Chu and Professor Paul P. Mariani, S.J., ably captures the evolving turmoil. Carefully detailing the thinking that motivated Pope Francis’ decision as well as providing context for understanding cultural complexities, People, Communities, and the Catholic Church in China offers precious background.

In addition to discussing current struggles, there are also chapters that represent hope for the future. One such by Raissa De Gruttola of the University of Perugia details the achievement of the Franciscan missionary Gabriele Allegra (1907–76), the only 20th-century biblical scholar to be beatified. Father Allegra spearheaded an effort to produce the first complete translated edition of the Catholic Bible in a Chinese language, completed in 1961 by the Hong Kong branch of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum.

Carefully detailing the thinking that motivated Pope Francis’ decision as well as providing context for understanding cultural complexities, People, Communities, and the Catholic Church in China offers precious background.

Even after Father Allegra’s premature death, related publications continued to appear in Chinese, including a revision in 2016 of Father Allegra’s edition. In 2012, the Studium Biblicum, Hong Kong Baptist University and the Yale University Divinity Library collaborated in a digitization project, “Preservation for the Documentation of Chinese Christianity,” making future research more possible.

The development of youth ministry in China since the early 2000s is examined in a chapter by the Rev. Bruno Lepeu of Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Centre. Despite disapproval by government-authorized church leaders, youth ministry is growing in China. Citing Kin Sheung Chiaretto Yan’s Evangelization in China: Challenges and Prospects, Father Lepeu underlines the ardor and affection felt by young Chinese Catholics, who refer to Jesus informally as “elder brother Su” to emphasize the church’s fraternal identity.

Readers who care for the future of the church will want to cast their eyes eastward, toward elder brother Su and his dauntless devotees.

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