New leaders of the Catholic Church and China, Pope Francis and Xi Jinping, have much in common, but little prospect of reconciliation


Change at the helm – New leaders of the Catholic Church and China, Pope Francis and Xi Jinping, have quite a bit in common

Habemus Papam (We have a Pope!) 我们有一个新主席 (We have a new President!)

Within 24 hours of each other two men assumed centre stage as leaders of the two greatest populations on our planet: In the Sistine Chapel Pope Francis – Jesuit Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires – was elected the 266th pope and head of 1.2 billion Catholics (and Sovereign of the Vatican State), while inside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People Chinese Communist Party (CPC) leader Xi Jinping became the seventh President of the People’s Republic of China, ruling over 1.4 billion people.

China and the Vatican have had no official relations since 1951 – for 71 years, the Vatican has maintained diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, as Taiwan is formally known – and yet even with the uneasy relationship between China and the Catholic Church both newly appointed leaders actually have quite a bit in common. For instance:

  • Pope Francis and President Xi JinPing will rule over populations experiencing remarkable transformation, in which ‘21st century’-minded reformists and historical followers are losing faith – growing increasingly skeptical and critical of what they view as obsolete and outmoded traditional methods of governance and doctrine. However, there are still many conservatives within the Catholic Church and China who for the most part are opposed to reform, preferring to maintain the status quo and keep things the way they are.
  • Pope Francis and President Xi JinPing will lead hugely powerful and rich institutions whose very raison d’êtres are concern for the marginalised and disadvantaged, but whose supporting structures benefit from levels of advantage undreamed of by most of those they are meant to be serving. Both therefore want to be seen as thrifty, humble and genuinely concerned with the plight of the vulnerable and tackling the causes of poverty. 

– By choosing the name synonymous with the self-denial and poverty of the revered 13th Century preacher and friar, Italy’s patron saint Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis, the son of an immigrant railway worker, already known for his humility, selflessness, and championing of the poor and vulnerable, signaled his intention to place the plight of the poor and marginalized at the heart of his papacy.  

– Despite his celebrated family ties to the CPC hierarchy, being the son of veteran revolutionary Xi Zhongxun (the reforming architect of China’s Special Economic Zones), at the age of 15, during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution he was part of a work brigade sent down by the CPC to the countryside village of Liangjiahe, an insignificant cave dwelling community located in remote and desolate yellow soiled mountains of Shaanxi province in northern China, to serve and learn from the grassroots. There he made a cave his home, patiently “ate bitterness (吃了苦头like the rest of us (villagers)” Source: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/11/world/la-fg-china-xi-20120212 , and laboured the yellow earth for seven years. Aligned with his rise as paramount leader, Xi Jinping has gone to considerable lengths to reconnect with such formative years by cultivating an image as a man of the grassroots who prefers frugality, humility and self-reliance.  Recently, in the run-up to his inauguration as President he vehemently spoken out against extravagance while underlining the need to close China’s yawning income disparities and pull its poor people out of poverty.

Change at the helm – New leaders of the Catholic Church and China, Pope Francis and Xi Jinping, have quite a bit in common
Pope Francis I – Back to core values: Emphasis on the poor and doctrinal conservatism
  • Pope Francis and President Xi JinPing both need to address damaging scandals caused by abuses of power and discord among their membership ranks that threaten the very fabric of their organisations.  Pope Francis needs to tackle the series of detrimental moral and financial disgraces involving the Vatican administration, Cardinals and other clerics that have afflicted the Catholic Church for years. Xi Jinping’s pressing task is to tackle unchecked corruption among officials that is eroding trust and belief in the CPC. Leadership changes at the top of Catholic Church and CPC have raised the hope that at last meaningful reform and revitalization is on the way. The future cohesiveness of both organisations lies in whether Pope Francis and Xi Jinping can successfully reverse the rot.
  • Pope Francis and President Xi JinPing are both known to be unwavering traditionalists on key issues. 

– Moderate Catholics hoping the church under the guidance Pope Francis will modify its social views in accordance with their own beliefs will have to wait much longer. The new Pontiff is an explicit opponent of contraception, women priests, clerical celibacy, and gay marriage, the latter which he considers “an attempt to destroy God’s plan”. Source: http://www.irishtimes.com/news/social-affairs/religion-and-beliefs/first-pope-from-the-americas-francis-raises-hopes-of-change-among-faithful-1.1324325

– Those amongst the burgeoning middle classes in China who like to think that Xi Jinping’s accession to the seat of power is going to result in a wave of political reforms will be sorely disappointed. Holding a doctorate in Marxist theory and ideological education from Tsinghua University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and as a former President of the CPC Central Party School, Xi Jinping is believed to hold much more conservative views than his father Xi Zhongxun (who expressed his opposition to the nature of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 4th June 1989), a supporter of former ‘liberal’ CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang. In speeches Xi has frequently called on rising cadres to immerse themselves in Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, declaring that political morality, “Marxist rectitude” and loyalty to the CPC are more important than professional competence. Source: “PLA Gains Clout: Xi Jinping Elevated to CMC Vice-Chairman,” China Brief, October 23, 2010. He was also an avowed supporter of the ‘Chongqing Model’ for upholding “core socialist norms”. Source: People’s Daily, December 13, 2010; Sina.com, December 10, 2010. [Note: The Chongqing Model was the series of social and economic policies adopted by Bo Xilai, the Chongqing CPC Chief, which epitomised increased state control and the promotion of a neo-leftist ideology. Following Bo’s removal in March 2012 the policies were either discontinued or scaled back.]

  • Pope Francis and President Xi JinPing were appointed to power through a guarded process in which the only persons who were allowed to participate were old men who are fully dedicated to the cause they stand for.

In terms of the likelihood of the Vatican one day switching its affiliation to Beijing, the similarities between the two established leaders as described above are cosmetic at best. Despite the growing appetite for spiritual values within mainland China’s officially atheist population, there is little prospect the CPC will recognise a foreign pope, rather than the secular Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, as the leader of all Chinese Catholics.  Besides faced with momentous internal challenges both the Pope Francis and President Xi Jinping will be too focused on ensuring the survival and prosperity of their own increasingly unmanageable institutions to care.

Source: http://www.accuratelimited.com/blog.view.php?id=7Mnfy0l093k=

Additional source:  https://nialljoreilly.wordpress.com/2008/06/29/hangzhou-reflections-the-hangzhou-catholic-church-the-most-church-beautiful-in-china/  is an article about the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Catholic Church of Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception in Hangzhou.

Change at the helm – New leaders of the Catholic Church and China, Pope Francis and Xi Jinping, have quite a bit in common
President Xi Jinping – Back to core values: Emphasis on the poor and doctrinal conservatism

The Gamines (Los Gaminos) of Bogotá – By Kathryn O’Reilly

As the ‘International Year of the Child’ draws to a close we find it disturbing that the plight of millions of children working in slave labour conditions has received minimal publicity. The following is the story of some of them.

Like many other ill informed travelers – knowing a little but not enough – I had a certain impression of South America, a land of rhythmic music, colour, gaiety and an almost permanent fiesta. – Yes, I knew there was great poverty, but there isn’t a country to-day without it.

Among the many places in South America I visited Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia, with a population of 5,000,000 (five million) people, at an altitude of 8,612 feet, lies almost permanently in a drifting web of clouds, fortress like. Beneath the clouds, however, lies a cosmopolitan city of amazing contrasts both in people and ways of life. The clever modern architecture blends graciously with the old, unbelievable wealth – mostly gained from great mineral resources, and illicit wealth, which is not spoken of, fueled by the drug trade and illegal emerald racketeering.

If the wealth and prosperity of a country portrays itself in the way it treats its underprivileged children – then Bogotá should bow its head in shame.

In Bogotá one sees the sickening contrast of the ultimate in opulence next door to the most desperate poverty – I speak of the slum dwellings on the slopes of the Andes “Resotration” which sprawl down the hillsides overlooking the city’s northern shopping centre. These dwellings are make from stolen bricks, cardboard, sheets of plastic, pieces of wood and disused petrol drums – anything that substitutes for four walls – at any moment the bulldozer can come, sent at a whim by a local landowner or government official. When the rains come they are more often than not washed away.

The breeding ground of the Gaminos -
The breeding ground of the Gamines – People are stacked on top of each other in slum dwellings. Many children go without basic amenities, much less the right to schooling.
Gaminos breeding grounds - Slum swellings sprawled across the hillside overlooking Bogota's northern shopping centre. According to unofficial estimates around 2,000,000 people in Bogota call such dwellings
Gamines breeding grounds – Slum swellings sprawled across the hillside overlooking Bogota’s northern shopping centre. According to unofficial estimates around 2,000,000 people in Bogota call such dwellings “home”
Gaminos breeding grounds - The slums of Bogota's mountainous perpihery
Gamines breeding grounds – The slums of Bogota’s mountainous perpihery

Bewildered prematurely aged women in the squatter settlements migrate from slow starvation in the countryside, like so many desperate ‘Dick Whittingtons’, hopeful that the city can offer more than their rural life. They bear too many children: In Bogotá the infant mortality rate is said to be 60 per 1,000 live births, while many of those born will die of disease, malnutrition and lack of medicine. For example, last August, in just one Bogotá maternity clinic a lack of medicine resulted in the deaths of 93 babies. Girls, with poor young mothers facing intense peer pressure from husbands and relatives desiring the survival of sons over daughters, are particularly at risk. Moreover, a cultural inclination for the dilution of milk bottles, which invariably are contaminated, over breast-feeding further fuels the risk of malnutrition and disease. 

Volunteer workers find that the most common objections to birth control are social ones, not religious, deriving from the male’s excessive concern with ‘machismo’.   From this wretched background the wandering homeless urchins street children – the gamines [in Espanola pronounced (gah MEE nays)] are bred, left to fend for themselves on the pitiless streets of Bogotá.

[Blog Note: In 1978, according to Page 272 of “Gamines: how to adopt from Latin America” [by Jean Nelson-Erichsen and Heino R. Erichsen (1981)], there were 130,000 gamines were living on the streets of Colombia’s cities.]

The Gaminos of Bogota - Child on the street, screenshot from the film
The Gamines (Los Gaminos) of Bogota – Child on the street, screenshot from the film “Gamin” by Ciro Duran, 1978

The children, as young as six years old, are sent out onto the streets by their mother or father or whatever where they compete with the vultures in their daily quest for food among the city’s refuse bins. Ill clad in their torn shirts and pants – often with no shoes, sometimes straw slippers, they form packs, sleeping on quiet streets, in doorways, in local parks and under bridges. It is a well know fact that they can strip a car down to the chassis in five minutes flat. They are fast on their feet, so fast the police seldom catch them – more often than not the police turn a blind eye. Girls of thirteen become prostitutes, their faces reflecting the hopelessness of their lives. Even children earning ₤1 per week down the treacherous coal mines are considered lucky.

Three years ago, when the Pope visited Bogotá the government sent military trucks on to the streets to pick up the gamines, keeping them in the mountains until His Holiness had left, for fear that he would see them or that their plight would be brought to his attention.

The gamines, or homeless street children, of Bogota sleep together, and form street gangs, to protect each other. They live off the proceeds of petty crime
The gamines, or homeless street children, of Bogota sleep together, and form street gangs, to protect each other. They live off the proceeds of petty crime

To walk on the streets of Bogotá wear even a wrist watch is not just hazardous, it’s crazy. The gamines would pull it off your arm, and if it didn’t come your wrist would be at stake. The same fate applies to handbags or any kind of jewellery.

The Casa de las Menores is a kind of remand home where boys picked up from the streets were sent. They may have committed some small crime or be guilty of the crime of illegitimacy and abandonment, unwanted orphans without any identification papers. Many boys are crammed into limited accommodation, and, certainly in the past, gruesome offences have been committed by the stronger against the weaker.

I heard of a Christmas party given by some social workers for these children. When the children saw the food they went crazy, knocked over the tables and ate like animals. They paid for this misdemeanour by being flogged with thongs by the wardens who accompanied them.

I have been told that the authorities are doing “something” – but “something” is not enough. There are now a number of volunteer projects in motion – Colombian and American teenagers are dynamic in the work that they do for these waifs – but it is only the tip of the iceberg. A complete change in social attitudes is not only necessary but vital if the smouldering discontent is not to erupt into a volcano of violence that the lethargic authorities will be unable to control.

And what of us safely ensconced in the faraway ‘developed’ worlds of Europe and America? What responsibility do our affluent societies bear for the prevalence and maltreatment of Bogotá’s disposable street children? It is clear to me that with Columbia’s drug trafficking cartels seeking to cash in on growing demand in our world for the highly addictive cocaine, more and more the true cost, the victims, of such demand will be the Gamines, the throwaway children.

This article was posted in the Irish Women’s Political Association (WPA) Journal No 14, Winter 1979. It was written by my late mother Kathryn O’Reilly http://wp.me/p15Yzr-k7 (or Catherine O’Reilly as attributed by the journal’s editor) who had recently returned from an extraordinary journey to Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela as guests of great personal friends the British Ambassador to Ecuador (John and Jenny Hickman) and the British Ambassador to Venezuela (Jock and Molly Taylor). 

During International Year of the Child in 1979 many problems relating to children—slavery, abuse, prostitution, homelessness – which thus far had been rejected out of hand or blatantly ignored by municipal governments throughout Latin America were given an international airing. In her own small, yet determined, way my mother, Kathryn O’Reilly, had hoped her article would draw the attention of Irish women to the wrongful practices of the Bogotá authorities with respect to addressing the plight of the gamines. International pressure, with Unicef actively assisting in the exposure of nationally embarrassing child maltreatment issues, moved previously complacent national government and city authorities in Latin America to start taking steps, albeit piecemeal, to address child protection issues, particularly with respect to homeless street children. 

Despite the nature of this article about the vicious cycle of poverty, desertion, abuse, neglect and children’s lack of access to basic amenities that breeds the gamines, the sight of which left an indelible mark on my mother’s psyche, she considered Colombia a wonderful and fascinating country. In Bogotá she met many inspirational local NGO volunteers and thus had a first-hand knowledge of their outstanding efforts to resolve the many complex, multidimensional, problems that every developing country with limited resources faces – which are mainly the result of a rapid increase in urban populations without the housing and service provisions that such growth demands. For my mother the best things about Colombia were its natural beauty and the warm welcoming attitude of Colombians towards visitors. In fact, given half the chance she wouldn’t have hesitated to go back!

Update: April 2018

Blog Note:

  • If you would like to sponsor a homeless child in Bogotá check out the NGO

‘SOS Children’s Villages’  

http://www.street-children.org.uk/

  • “Fr. Javier De Nicolo, a dedicated Salesian missionary, visionary and human rights activist, passed away on March 22, 2016 at the age of 88. He dedicated his life to saving the young people that no one else wanted to help – children living on the streets of Bogota, Colombia. As in the likeness of the founder of the Salesians, St. John “Don” Bosco, Fr. Javier De Nicolo was devoted to helping homeless youth that others refused to approach – many of whom had severe social problems and drug addictions. Fr. Javier De Nicolo developed a system of mutual trust and respect, which became the foundation of success for his street children program. He joined in the activities of the children, sharing in their experiences and even sharing a little bit of money with them. Once respect was established, he invited them into his community where they would be provided with showers, clean clothes, meals and a warm bed. The children were able to come and go as they wished, but most chose to stay. Through various additional steps, the children were introduced to basic education and skills training, and were given the opportunity of a promising future. Fr. Javier’s generosity, dedication and hard work is something that every Salesian missionary strives to accomplish. He gave those children who had nothing and needed everything the chance to live a life of dignity, joy and empowerment. In his more than 50 years of service, Fr. Javier was a faithful disciple of both Jesus and Don Bosco, allowing thousands of children to benefit from his generous heart. May he now rest peacefully. http://www.salesianmissions.org”

Source: 

2018

2018