China: The Comboni Missionaries’ Fen Xiang Initiative

Fifteen years ago, the Comboni Missionaries set up an initiative called Fen Xiang in China, which was borne out of the desire to collaborate with the local Church.

Two characters form the term Fen Xiang: Fen, which means to divide or to share, and Xiang, the character for joy and good experience. Joined together, the two characters represent sharing: both feelings and experiences – joy and suffering – and material goods. By sharing, both sides can give and receive, creating a reciprocal flow.

The main aim of Fen Xiang is collaboration with and support of the Church in China, primarily through assisting initiatives for the formation of Church leaders: sisters, seminarians, catechists and priests.

The formation of pastoral agents (priests and laity) in mainland China is, at present, a key issue that challenges the Church. This is due to the adverse conditions faced by the faithful in China. These include the persecution, control, and interference of the Chinese government, which continually hinders the journey of the Church. Chinese society has also undergone a deep transformation since Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms at the end of the 1970s. The continuous changes that have been brought in by the government have affected people’s lives, minds, and pockets. Christians, sisters, and priests have not been excluded from the effect of this drastic and quick transformation of Chinese society. As such, two questions that need to be considered carefully are how to face these challenges, and how to guide Christians in facing them.

The proper training of Church personnel will undoubtedly help the Church to counteract the many challenges it faces from within: for example, the generational gap between old bishops and young priests, which is not always free from tension. While some young pastoral agents have the chance to study abroad, most receive a rather poor training in their seminaries, mainly because they lack qualified instructors and proper materials. The formation of sisters is an even bigger challenge. There are few trained instructors in formation, and most sisters have to rely on outdated methods. Seminarians, too, find it difficult to complete their full theological curriculum, and often their diocesan bishops cannot cope with the financial burden that the tuition fees represent. In some seminaries, libraries are full of empty shelves.

Fen Xiang has nonetheless expanded; it now also supports social work projects. In exchange, the Comboni Missionaries and people at large will benefit from the testimonies of faith and courage of the Christians in China.