One dissident was Zhang Lin, a nuclear physicist who has been detained nearly half a dozen times over the past 13 years. A fearless champion of human rights, Lin wasn’t at Tiananmen but led protests as part of the pro-democracy movement in his hometown. He currently remains behind bars for speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party.
But his 10-year-old daughter, Anni, managed to escape China last year, and is being taken care of by Reggie Littlejohn, founder of the group Women Rights Without Frontiers, which has long been campaigning for an end to the one child policy and forced abortion in China. She is also looking after Lin’s older, 19-year-old daughter, Ruli.
To find out more about the current situation in the country and Anni’s remarkable escape, the Register spoke with Littlejohn when she recently visited Rome.
What is the current situation regarding freedom and human rights in China, 25 years since Tiananmen Square?
Tiananmen Square happened in 1989; the one-child policy happened in 1980, so the pro-democracy movement and the one-child policy have been growing in parallel. I would say, in terms of democracy in China, things have actually gotten worse.
Friends of mine I’ve spoken to who were actually at Tiananmen Square at the time tell me the massacre was absolutely beyond anything one could imagine. But at the time, the government allowed people to gather on Tiananmen Square, whereas today there’s no freedom of assembly.
If you go there today, one person with a sign that says “Freedom in China” or anything like that will be immediately detained and whisked off the square.
Some reports suggested China was loosening its one-child policy. Is this true?
There is a misperception that China has loosened its one-child policy. On Jan. 1 of this year, they made a slight adjustment to the policy, so that if one member is an only child, that couple can have a second child. But according to the Chinese Communist Party, this is “no big deal” — that’s a quote from them, from national family-planning officials.
The point is the core of the coercion with which the policy is enforced. So it doesn’t really matter whether the government is to allow one or more children; what matters is that they are telling people how many children they can have and are enforcing that limit coercively. … They did this [minor policy change] 100% for demographic reasons: They see they are entering a demographic winter in China, have a sharply rising elderly population and sharply dwindling younger population, so there’s no way to support the elderly population, and they don’t have the security.
There are at least 37 million more males than females in China today, which is driving sexual slavery. … So while they have instituted the one-child policy for economic purposes, they have also written their own economic death sentence through the one-child policy. They are willing to tweak it, adjust it, to find some way to somehow get more people in, while maintaining the coercion; keep some kind of a limit where it is one or two children. But there’s always a limit that can be enforced by coercion. Coercion is the core of the policy, not the number of children that are born.
Could you tell us a little about how you came to rescue Anni, the daughter of Zhang Lin?
I found out about Anni from Zhang Lin last April. I got a call from a friend, who’s president of Women’s Rights in China, to say that this little girl Anni had been detained by the Chinese Communist Party overnight. She was denied food, water, blankets. She had been in school and called to the principal’s office, but then she was basically kidnapped by four unidentified men who lied to her, told her they were taking her to see her father, but they were actually taking her to a detention center, where she was detained without food, water or blankets and not knowing where her father was. She was finally returned to her father, and they remained in detention for a total of 24 hours together.
Protests followed, and what happened then? How did you become involved?
At that point, I got the news about Anni and was made aware of it. I was given the opportunity to be on [Chinese] national radio [based in New York] with her and her father [via telephone]. The host said: “You’re a women’s-rights activist in the U.S. Anni is an emerging women’s-rights activist in China. Do you want to speak to each other?” We said, yeah, sure.
I said to Annie: “I’m so impressed with you, your courage and how articulate you are. If you remain pure, humble and true, you can help lead the people to freedom.” I felt this really strong bond with her over this national radio program.
You say Anni is a survivor of China’s one-child policy?
Yes, Anni’s mother was chased by family-planning police and had to hide because they were trying to forcibly abort Anni. I didn’t even know about this when I made the decision to take her into my home that she’s a survivor of the one-child policy.
Can you tell us a little about how she escaped?
She and her father were demonstrating in front of her elementary school in Hefei, Anhui’s provincial capital. They deported them back to their hometown of Bengbu and put them under house arrest; and for months they couldn’t leave the house and were under surveillance. Then they escaped house arrest, became fugitives and were caught, just Anni and him, as the older daughter, Ruli, was in college.
When he was caught, Lin knew he was going back into detention, so he got a message out to me that both he and Anni wanted Anni to come to the U.S. because she couldn’t live a normal life in China. I said: “Where are they going to go? Let me call my extremely awesome husband.” I explained the situation to him, reminding him of Zhang Lin and saying she needs a place to go. So he said, well, she can come and live with us.
Then came the very long and arduous process of trying to get them to the U.S. There are four people currently in detention for helping Anni: her father, who has not been sentenced yet — they are likely to give him a heavy sentence because his original crime had to do with him being involved with pro-democracy protests of Tiananmen Square, and this is the 25th anniversary, so why not make an example out of him? — two other people who were part of the protests in front of the elementary school and someone who gave them shelter, Yao Cheng.
When my husband sent a letter of invitation for them to come and be with us to the U.S., they were brought to Shanghai. They were under surveillance and so gave their cellphones to friends of theirs to take to the mall so police would think they’d gone to the mall. … Yao Cheng was caught and is still in detention. So there are four people still detained for helping Anni.
They [the government] let Anni go, but made it very costly. How could they keep her? She was like the poster child for children of dissidents. [The human-rights activist] Chen Guangcheng went through this, too. This is what the Chinese Communist Party will do.
We learned recently that the sentencing of Zhang Lin, the father of Anni and Ruli, has been delayed by six months. This is the second delay in sentencing since he was tried last December. He has already been in jail for nine months, and he won’t even be sentenced for another six months. We wonder if this is due to his involvement with the Tiananmen Square movement, and that he might be getting harsher treatment because of the 25th anniversary.
My opinion is that it’s extremely cowardly: If they cannot silence people by persecuting them directly, they will attempt to silence them by persecuting their children. This is, in my opinion, state-sponsored official child abuse, and Women’s Rights Without Frontiers denounces persecution of children of dissidents, an act which is at once brutal and cowardly and seems like an act of desperation by a regime that is feeling threatened about its legitimacy.
It’s important to reveal this to expose the Chinese government.
Yes, the persecution of children of Chinese dissidents. There are other incidents, but this is typical of what they do, and the word needs to get out in the West about this. This [China] is who the world is kowtowing to because of financial debts. This is a government that will persecute a 10-year-old girl and not let her go to school. She’s done nothing wrong herself, just that her father stood up for freedom in China.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/whither-china-25-years-after-tiananmen-square?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NCRegisterDailyBlog+National+Catholic+Register#When:2014-06-4 20:49:01#ixzz34B5zV77g
“It calls for the courage to say Yes to encounter and No to conflict,” the Pope continued. “Yes to dialogue and No to violence; Yes to negotiations and No to hostilities; Yes to respect for agreements and No to acts of provocation; Yes to sincerity and No to duplicity.”
The Holy Father delivered his address at the end of an evening filled with Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers, chants and orchestral music.
As planned, Israeli President Shimon Peres was the first to arrive, reaching the Pope’s St. Martha residence soon after 6pm. He was welcomed by the custos of the Holy Land, Franciscan Father Pier Battista Pizzaballa. After a few minutes of private talks, Peres made way for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who punctually arrived with his delegation at 6:30pm.
‘Stroke of Publicity Genius’
Following the separate talks, the two leaders publicly embraced before joining the Pope, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Father Pizzaballa in a minibus that took them the short distance to the venue for the prayer meeting. The imagery of the party traveling together, filmed smiling and chatting from inside the vehicle, was described by some observers as a “stroke of publicity genius” by the Holy Father.
The group arrived at a small triangular patch of grass surrounded by tall hedgerows at the back of the Vatican Museums. To the stirring music of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, performed by Christian, Jewish and Muslim musicians, Pope Francis, flanked by Peres and Abbas, took his seat.
Evening prayer was divided into three parts, following the chronological ordering of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic religious communities. Prayers were offered in Hebrew, English, Italian and Arabic, praising God for creation, asking pardon for sin and requesting the gift of peace.
Selections included several Psalms, a prayer from the Jewish Day of Atonement service, a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi and several Islamic prayers.
In comments to the Register, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who read one of the prayers, singled out the significance of this “very meaningful” event from several points of view. Not only was it called together by a religious leader — the Pope — but it also affirmed “the role of religion in the public space,” he said.
Healing and Renewal
The cardinal-president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace also noted that it took place on the day when “Christians celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit,” a celebration “rooted in the Jewish Old Testament celebration of Pentecost, when water poured on the altar flowed out of the Temple to bring God’s healing and renewal to everything it touched.”
“The event retains this healing sense of the original Jewish celebration,” he said, but added that when celebrated by Christians, “it acquires the additional sense that everything about Christ, and in this case, his gift of peace, is not successfully worked at and obtained without the Holy Spirit: God’s help from above.”
“This may be seen as explaining, in the first place,” Cardinal Turkson added, “why the Pope invited to prayer [his fellow leaders] to seek peace.”
“As an event, it was amazing,” wrote Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio lay community, in the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera. He noted that never before had Muslim prayers been heard within the Vatican walls — walls ironically erected over a millennium ago, after Rome and the old St. Peter’s Basilica were raided by Arab Muslims.
Some observers voiced skepticism about the event and feared it reflected syncretism, even scandal. But But the Vatican stressed it wasn’t an interreligious prayer meeting. Riccardi said he believed the event showed the “great progress” made by the “spirit of Assisi” (the famous interreligious prayer meeting first held in 1986), and it underlined that the emphasis is now on religions “praying next to each other, no more against each other.”
‘We Need the Help of God’
In his address, the Pope noted how the evening prayer was accompanied by the prayers of “countless people” across the world and responded to the “fervent desire” of all who long for peace.
“History teaches that our strength alone does not suffice,” the Pope said. “More than once we have been on the verge of peace, but the evil one, employing a variety of means, has succeeded in blocking it. That is why we are here, because we know and we believe that we need the help of God.”
“Lord, come to our aid,” the Pope implored. “Grant us peace; teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. … Renew our hearts and minds, so that the word which always brings together will be ‘brother’ and our way of life will always be that of: Shalom, Peace, Salaam! Amen.”
During his trip last month to the Holy Land, the Pope invited Peres and Abbas to pray at the Vatican after U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed at the end of April.
In their comments at the event, Peres and Abbas both issued strong pleas for peace. Peres recalled that, in his life, he had seen both peace and warfare and would never forget the devastation caused by war. “We owe it to our children” to seek peace, he said.
Abbas said the people of Palestine are “craving for a just peace, dignified living and liberty,” and he pointedly invoked freedom for “our sovereign and independent state.”
Spiritual, Not Political
Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Zion Evrony, stressed the event was not political, but spiritual. “A prayer for peace and interreligious dialogue can sometimes help increase trust between two sides of a conflict,” he told the Register. “It can also have a positive effect on the atmosphere and help in building bridges for peace.”
He added that the event was an “occasion to emphasize Israel’s desire for peace,” but also “an opportunity to call upon leaders of all faiths to ensure that religion will not be used to justify terror.”
Pope Francis is a “man of peace, great spirituality and strong belief,” he said. “His call to pray for peace has touched many hearts in Israel and around the world.”
Rabbi David Rosen, who sang one of the Hebrew prayers at the prayer service, told the Register, “It was a very moving event.”
“The word ‘historic’ is overused, but this was indeed historic,” said Rabbi Rosen, who is the international director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee. “It was a concrete embodiment of Nostra Aetate; a witness to the world of a new era of possible Jewish/Christian/Muslim respect and friendship, of which we could only fantasize in the past … and a remarkable tribute to Pope Francis’ own vision.”
Cardinal Turkson stressed that, despite the significance of the event, it was never meant to “replace other” peace-building efforts, but “to lend support to such initiatives.”
Cardinal Turkson pointed out that from the addresses and comments, “one still needs to deal with the expectations related with the call for peace on the different sides.”
He said, “These expectations may also be seen as subtle demands or conditions for the attainment and fulfillment of peace.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Called “Invocation for Peace,” the initiative comes after Pope Francis, following celebration of Mass in Bethlehem on May 25, invited both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican to pray for an end to the conflict in the Holy Land. Both leaders quickly accepted the invitation.
At a Vatican briefing today, Franciscan Father Pier Battista Pizzaballa, custos of the Holy Land, and Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, told reporters the prayer meeting will begin with Peres and Abbas arriving at the Vatican within 15-20 minutes of each other, respectively at 6:15pm and 6:30pm local time.
Father Lombardi said the Holy Father will receive both men individually at the entrance of his St. Martha residence and speak briefly with each of them, after which all three will meet in the hall of the residence. Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church, will also accompany them, having arrived in Rome on Saturday evening.
Judaism, Christianity and Islam
The four will then leave the residence by car, arrive at the gardens and take their places. The evening will begin at 7pm with a musical introduction and an explanation in English of the structure and form of the celebration, which will follow the chronological order of the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The part of the ceremony dedicated to Judaism will begin with a prayer for creation, followed by music, then another prayer invoking forgiveness. More music will be followed by a prayer invoking peace and concluding with a traditional Jewish musical meditation. All the prayers will be in Hebrew.
Christian prayers on the same themes will follow, first in English, then in Italian and finally in Arabic. Each will similarly be interspersed with music and end with a Christian musical meditation. The third part of the ceremony will contain Muslim prayers in Arabic on the same themes, interrupted by music and concluding with a Muslim musical meditation.
A reader will then introduce in English the final part of the celebration, beginning with Pope Francis’ discourse invoking peace. The Holy Father will then invite each of the two presidents to formulate his own invocation. Shimon Peres will begin, followed by Mahmoud Abbas.
As a gesture of peace, in which Patriarch Bartholomew will also participate, all the participants will shake hands. The Pope will then accompany them in planting an olive tree, as a symbol of peace.
‘Not Praying Together But Coming Together to Pray’
At the end of the celebration, the four will remain side by side while the delegations, up to a maximum of 20 people, will greet them. The Holy Father, the two presidents and the Patriarch will then proceed to the Casina Pio IV, the villa that is home to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas. The Holy Father will then speak to them in private.
Peres and Mahmoud will then leave the Vatican, while Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew will return to the St. Martha residence.
It’s not clear how much time will be allotted to silent prayer, but Father Pizzaballa stressed that at such occasions as this, in view of the theological and liturgical differences among those present, followers of the three monotheistic religions “do not pray together, but we come together to pray.”
The “Invocation for Peace” is the second major papal prayer initiative aimed at helping to resolve a global conflict, and shows the Pope’s belief that prayer can be a genuine force for achieving peace. Last September, Francis called on the whole Church to pray for an end to the fighting in Syria. Although the fighting continues, many believe the initiative miraculously helped avert what looked like being an inevitable and potentially catastrophic escalation of the conflict.
This initiative takes place after the latest U.S.-brokered peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians collapsed at the end of April.
“Behind this idea is that men on their own cannot make it,” Australia’s ambassador to the Holy See, John McCarthy, told the Register. “They need the assistance of God and the Holy Spirit to be able to move forward.” He added that especially in areas of conflict and dispute, Pope Francis wants “in a profound way” to bring the “power and the spirit of the Lord to the ends of the world.
“We saw that over Syria, and we see it over this,” McCarthy said.
In today’s briefing with reporters, Father Pizzaballa stressed the Pope does not want to enter into the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but to “reopen a road that has been closed for a long time” and to awaken in the souls of everyone “the desire for peace.”
“Nobody presumes to believe that after this meeting peace will burst forth in the Holy Land,” he said, but added that “everyone hopes something will change because all are tired.”
The delegations at Sunday’s ceremony will be multi-religious. The Israeli party will include the spiritual leader of the Druze faith in Israel, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, as well as Rabbi Rasson Arussi of the Chief Rabbinate Council, and Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee and adviser to the Chief Rabbinate.
The Palestinian delegation will include Palestine’s former minister for religious affairs, Mahmoud Al Habbash, Sheikh Jamal abu Alhanoud of the Palestinian Sharia Courts, and the retired Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Michel Sabbah.
The meeting will also be attended by Rabbi Abraham Skorka and the Islamic leader Omar Abboud, both longtime friends of Pope Francis from Argentina. They also accompanied him on his visit to the Holy Land.
Father Lombardi said Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI won’t be attending but will be taking part in the meeting through heartfelt prayer, “like all of those who realize the importance of this event.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.
Former Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano has underlined the importance of Church reform, stressing that it is not governed by public opinion.
The cardinal has just written a book dedicated to reform of the Church. Published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, the Vatican publishing house, “A Church to Love” is also the fruit of a conference held by the Christian Union of Business Executives which took place in March last year.
The Italian cardinal, in an interview today with the Italian bishops’ newspaper Avvenire, said the topic of reform had interested him since he studied theology in the 1950s.
He stressed, first of all, that a “clear vision” of the Church’s nature and the limits to ecclesial reform is required, as well as the importance of keeping in mind the Church’s divine origins and her supernatural reality.
“Not for nothing did theologians like to talk about the ‘Church of Christ’ and not just the Church,” Sodano said. “In this way we can better understand that if the Church is of Christ, man cannot change her nature. The Lord’s words are, in fact, very clear: ‘The heavens and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away’ (Lk 21, 33).”
But he also pointed out that even the Latin phrase ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’ [the Church is always to be reformed] has found a place in Catholicism and “precisely for this reason” it’s necessary to specify well the nature of the concept of reform.
The cardinal distinguishes between reform and transformation or deformation, stressing that the purpose and scope of reform are “clearly defined”, as was seen at the Second Vatican Council and most recently in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, in which he spoke of renewal “that begins with individuals, reaching out to the whole Church and its human structures.”
Cardinal Sodano explained that internal reforms must be rooted in both the love of Christ and the need to renew structures no longer suited to the times.
The Church “as a divine institution, her Gospel , her Creed, the Sacraments, and its hierarchical structure of course cannot be changed”, he stressed. “Only those ecclesial realities of human origin can be changed, ones that no matter how noble and providential they were in their time, no longer correspond to the needs of today, or may even be a counter-witness for the Church.
“In fact,” the cardinal added, “the history of the Church speaks of several successive reforms that have arisen under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”
Asked how he felt about current reforms of the Vatican, he said he felt the path being pursued for the Roman Curia at present is “definitely” positive but stressed that popes have always wanted “to adapt their ways of governing to different historical situations.”
He pointed out three major reforms of the Curia: first, by St. Pius X in 1908, the second by Pope Paul VI in 1967 and the last commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II in 1988.
He further stressed that the “first motive” for reforming the Church “doesn’t arise from the mere desire to adapt to the times.” Instead, the first impetus comes from the desire “to respond more fully to the will of Christ, and that is the desire to bring the Church to the ‘form’ that the Lord wanted to give it.”
In summary, the Cardinal said, reforms are “not born out of a desire to satisfy any pressure of public opinion, or just to adapt to the fashions of the moment. Here, too, is the principle of all time, namely, that the good of souls is the supreme law of the Church. Who does not remember the old Latin phrase: ‘Bonum animarum suprema lex’? [The good of souls is the supreme law]
The cardinal went on to say that the Church that “is always in need of purification, is a Church that is always in need of reform.”
But he added there’s also a Church that is “always in need of being loved by her children. She is a mother who gave birth to supernatural life in us; she is the mother who teaches us the words of the Gospel, and feeds us with its sacraments. “
He recalled the many sons the Church has brought to the goal of holiness, and who referred to the Church as mother and mother of the saints.