Dr. Jean-Paul Wiest thinks the Catholic Church in China needs to to recapture a positive relationship with the common people.
Wiest came to the Overseas Ministries Study Center Friday to share his eyewitness description of Christianity in modern China.
Originally from France, Wiest now lives in China with his wife and has written “The Catholic Church in Modern China, Perspectives.” At the talk, he spoke of the religious policies of the Chinese government, focusing primarily on Catholicism and its struggle to gain hold in China.
“He’s extremely well-informed and quite balanced. He doesn’t give vent to grand generalizations,” Jonathan Bonk, director of the OMSC, said.
Wiest documented the growing popularity of the Protestant Church in China, due in large part to the appeal of the tempered Protestant service. In response to the 1949 communist takeover of China, the Catholic Church cut its ties with its Chinese brethren, and consequently Chinese Catholic services missed out on many modernizing reforms, he said.
Coupled with several strict government policies, including rigid control of the number of religious seminaries and a ban on selling religious scriptures in bookstores, the older form of the Catholic service has made it difficult to enlist new adherents.
“The Catholic Church is a little bit closed, not like the Protestant, which is open,” said Xing Chen, who is at Yale researching his postdoctoral thesis on Christianity and modernity. “After 1949, the Catholic Church lost contact with Rome. Their ceremony is very complicated.”
In light of this disparity, Wiest said the Catholic Church should spread its ideals through means other than the liturgy. One way to do so, Wiest said, is through academics and their scholarly writings on the Church, which, unlike actual religious scriptures, can be sold in bookstores to the general public.
“Is there a way to influence society through the academia? This is happening,” Wiest said. “Those academics, they are the ones that can publish.”
Wiest even encouraged those present to visit the religious section of foreign bookstores, which, he said, are always full of people.
Bonk said Yale is directly involved in the process, as two Chinese scholars at the University, including Chen, are working to publish books on religion in China.
“The role of Universities in forwarding opportunities to discuss and expand religion intellectually is most interesting,” Bonk said.
Xing said he agrees largely with Wiest’s presentation of Catholicism in China.
“He knows China very well. It’s very complicated,” Chen said. “He gives positive comments on the Chinese situation. I can say that I agree with him.”
Wiest comes to the OMSC annually to give a talk on Christianity in China. Although Wiest concentrates on the Catholic religion, OMSC is not affiliated with any particular branch of Christianity.
According to Bonk, the OMSC “deliberately spans the religious spectrum.”
“The only thing they have in common is they’re Christian leaders, missionaries, or they’re professors in Christian theology,” Bonk said.