Jeremias Schröder osb,
Archabbot of St. Ottilien, Germany
That huge Empire, which was thought of as the centre of the world, and even as the greatest and largest in human history, was always a challenge for Christians. This people were certainly included in that word of the Lord, ‘Go to all the nations'.
Christianity has been present in China since the 7th century. Benedictines only arrived at the beginning of the 20th century as missionaries and founders of monasteries in Manchuria, as professors in the Catholic University of Pekin, and as monks in charge of cultural missions in the far off province of Sichuan. The upheavals caused by war, and when the Communist Party came to power in 1949 put an end to all these activities. The last foreign Benedictines left China in the 50's, and their native brethren were killed, imprisoned, or survived in secret. But the former connections were not completely destroyed. Former pupils of the Benedictine University, and Christians served by priests of the Order, succeeded in maintaining these living links.
With the improvement of relations with China from the beginning of the 80's these links have been reanimated and made closer. Many monasteries have begun to support the Church in China, and, according to the Benedictine model, without any preconceived plan. In 1996 the Abbots' Congress recommended that these activities be entrusted to a Commission. Such is the origin of the Benedictine Commission for China, under the chairmanship of the then Archabbot of St. Ottilien, who is none other than the present Abbot Primate Dom Notker Wolf. The Commission usually meets twice a year, once in full assembly, to which all the brothers and sisters directly concerned with China are invited, and once in Rome, which is limited to the members of the executive committee. The members of this commission are : the Abbot President of the American Cassinese Congregation, the Abbot President of the St. Ottilien Congregation, the Prioress General of the Tutzingen sisters, the Abbots of different monasteries actively committed to China, (St. Vincent and Valyermo in the U.S.) the superiors of the monks and nuns of Taiwan, a representative of AIM, and representative of the Trappists' Curia, and three Chinese members of the Order. The secretary of the Commission is Fr.Nicholas Koss, a monk of St. Vincent's in the U.S. who is a professor at Taiwan, and knows the country very well.
The first task of the Commission is the exchange of information. Banal, you might say, but where China is concerned, the political-ecclesastical situation is very complicated, and so this is necessary. Who visits whom? What new trends are there ? Representatives of Propaganda Fide - that Roman Ministry for the Missions - are invited to give us information, and we keep in contact with other institutions important for the Church in China. The Chinese Centre at St. Augustine's, or the Chinese Catholic North American Office. Equally valuable for the teaching and continuing formation of our monks and sisters, are the study trips to China organised every year. The strongest element of these, is acquiring a proper knowledge of Catholic China. Whoever takes part in such a trip, comes back with a deep impression on Christianity lived in the setting of Chinese Society, and is really motivated to take part in all the projects. But what are these projects ? Many Benedictine Colleges and Universities in the United States have exchange programmes and studies with China, some of which have been going on for some time. One hopes as a limited objective, that there will be schools with a Benedictine ethos in the People's Republic of China. For 20 years some monasteries have taken direct charge of the formation of Seminarians, Sisters, Priests, and recently lay-persons. Overseas grants are allowed. Today two priests from Pekin are studying Liturgy and Church Music at Sant'Anselmo ; for some years the University of Collegeville has reserved 4 places for Chinese students. Many of these students have returned to China where they occupy important places in the Church. We help priestly seminaries and colleges of Sisters in China itself. Financial aid is sometimes a good idea ; only recently have Benedictines been invited to China as teachers. At same time as Chinese Catholic become aware of themselves more and more, they are also aware of the charitable dimension of Christianity which is proved through the service of the weak and disadvantaged. For some years Benedictines have supported the largest Charitable Centre in China. A Korean Benedictine father has his residence at Pekin, and from there handles contacts between the Churches.