Newsletter of the District of Asia

 Jan-Jun 2001


This issue of our Newsletter deals with a number of subjects.  Firstly, as it has been publicized quite broadly, we need to summarize the situation of the newly resumed negotiations with the Roman authorities.  For this, I will let Fr. P.M. Laurençon, superior of our French District, who, by his very position in the front-line of the battle field, can speak authoritatively on certain key aspects of these talks, particularly the French aspects.  These aspects actually play a great role, because of the re-awakening among the young French clergy of a hunger for the sanctity of the old liturgy, reawakening fueled partly by the SSPX Letter to Priests, sent quarterly to all the French clergy.

Next, a point we alluded to in our previous Newsletter, the danger of private revelations.  Real private revelations are extremely hard to discern.  If the great Doctor in this field, St John of the Cross, in his writings urges all souls eager to progress in the spiritual life to discard completely these private revelation –even the good ones! – it certainly is very dangerous, not to say more, to accept these revelations without any knowledge of the discernment of spirits, not to mention, with the ignorance of theology.  We tackle in the following pages one of these messages that has hit some of our centers, here in the District of Asia, and a few other SSPX centers elsewhere.

Thirdly, we continue our missionary tour of the various ten countries of the District of Asia, highlighting one or another aspect of the Faith as we go along.  The aspect of the Catholic history of Korea we would like to accentuate here is the role of the laity in the Church.  Something is changing in that area today, right under our eyes, something new is happening which, God forbid, may very well echo, in a modern way, St Jerome’s famous word about the Arian heresy:  “The world groaned and awoke Arian.”

The one feature which is unique in the history of Catholicism in Korea is the fact that it was founded not by foreign missionaries, but by the Korean lay people themselves.  When the first priest, Chu Mun-mo Vellozo, a Chinese, arrived in Seoul in 1794, he found over 4000 Christians already more or less organized by their catechists.  Then, in spite of many long years without priests, (1784 – 1794, 1801 – 1835, 1839 –1843, 1866 – 1872), the Korean Catholics admirably kept their faith during the long and cruel persecutions of their history.  Their apostolate has also always been phenomenal. 

This apostolate, the exercise of their faith, was truly Catholic, in the sense that they knew the need to have bishops and priests to guide them.  If some of them did unfortunately act as ‘priests’ in the early days, they did it out of ignorance and stopped as soon as the priests instructed them.  Their apostolate was always subsidiary to the work of the hierarchy.  Their persevering and moving appeals to the Bishop of Peking, at first, then to Pope Pius VII in prison in Fontainebleau, followed by another one to Pope Leo XII, and after that to the Church authorities in Hongkong, reveal a deep understanding of true Catholicism: “O Lord, grant us priests!”  Because without them, no Mass, no confession, no guidance…

This is an essential point ignored, misunderstood, or simply rejected today in the apostolate of the laity.  From all direction, from papal documents down to parish bulletins through diocesan publications, it is constantly heard that now, finally, the laity is been asked to do something for the Church.  It is insisted so much on that one may wonder what did the laity ever do in the past history of the Church?  Poor laity keep idle by priestly clericalism!  Now is your time!  Now is the new age of the laity!

Such mentality displays a sad ignorance of both the structure and the history of the Church. 

Firstly, of the structure of the Church.  It is to His hierarchical Church (Popes and Bishops) that Christ gave the mandate to teach, rule and sanctify souls.  The apostolate of the laity concerns only the first of these three functions.  In the words of Pope Pius XII “it consists in the laity assuming tasks which flow from the mission entrusted by Christ to his Church. This apostolate remains always an apostolate of the laity and does not become an apostolate of the hierarchy even when it is exercised under a mandate given by the Hierarchyy". “The acceptance by the layman of a particular mission, of a mandate from the Hierarchy, if it associates him more closely to the spiritual conquest of the world which the Church is carrying on under her Pastors, is not sufficient to make of him a member of the hierarchy, to give him the power of orders and of jurisdiction which remains closely tied up with the reception of the sacrament of Orders in its different degrees.” (Allocution Six Ans, to the 2nd World Congress of the Apostolate of the Laity, Oct. 5, 1957, in Directives to Lay Apostles, Solesmes, nos. 528, 540).

We are back to the submission to the Church.  Faith comes to us through the Church.  As we have said in our previous Newsletter (editorial), the submission to the Magisterium is the very point the Protestants rejected from the very start; the Charismatics too, by claiming to have a direct line with the Holy Ghost, bypass the control of the Magisterium.  This is also the tendency of modern apparitions.  Because there is a crisis in the Church, then, we are told by these messages, ‘Heaven’ comes and takes direct control of the situation, as if we lacked guidance with 2000 years of documents of the Magisterium.

It is common to see these so called ‘seers’, or charismatic people become ‘spiritual directors’ of priests and bishops.  Was the Charismatic movement not started when a Protestant lady imposed hands on two Catholic priests in Notre Dame University, in the 1960s?  How many priests, and bishops have become disciples of the likes of Veronica Luekens (Bayside), of the Medjugorie seers, of the Orthodox Vassula ????, of the Irish Sr Briege MrKenna, and of the Australian Debra?

So, there is a real revolution when the laity start running the Church, I don’t say, come to the help of the Hierarchy, I say, guide or replace the Hierarchy.  This new role of the laity, is not understood as the laity collaborating better to the apostolate of the Hierarchy, but rather as the laity insidiously taking over a rapidly shrinking Hierarchy, or in simple words, a laity in  the process of establishing a lay Church.  Another Protestant Church, in other words.

The danger is objective, and is becoming out of control.  Last February 22, the Holy Father hit on it in his letter to all nine German Cardinals, a letter made public on March 12.    The Pope’s last point was his concern regarding the "collaboration of priests and laity in pastoral work." He said that there have been numerous reports of cases in which lay people have carried out functions that are specifically reserved for the ordained ministry, and he pointed out that these abuses apparently continued despite repeated cautions from Rome. This situation had to be rectified, he wrote, "because a renewal of hope for the Church is impossible without a renewal of the priestly ministry and consecrated life."

Secondly, those who purport these ideas show an amazing ignorance of the history of the Church, in all its ages, in all its mission fields, starting with an ignorance of the Gospel itself, with the choice of the holy women by Our Blessed Lord.  Throughout the centuries, at all times have the faithful collaborated with their bishops and their priests, be it in the catacombs, be it on or around imperial thrones, be it with the children, the sick, the dying; in the large cities, in the remote and isolated missions.  Everywhere, at all times, have all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy had their long list of lay heroes. 

“A word on the function of the catechists. In Asia and Africa there are, out of a population of a billion and a half, some 25 million Catholics, with 20,000-25,000 priests and 74,000 catechists (figures of 1957[1]). If we add to this number the teachers,  who are often the best catechists, we reach the number of 150,000. The catechist represents perhaps the most classic example of the lay apostolate by the very nature of his profession and because he supplies for the lack of priests. Among the missionaries in Africa, at least, it is estimated that one missionary with six catechists can do more than seven missionaries; the competent catechist, in fact, is working in a familiar setting: he knows the language and the customs well; he enters into contact with the inhabitants much more easily than the missionary from abroad.

Catechists are, therefore, native lay apostles; but there exists also an apostolate of laymen and of foreign missionary lay assistants.  Doctors, engineers, manual workers in the different professions wish to support the work of the priests in the mission by their example and by their professional activity, above all by the education of the natives. Side by side with their professional training, or after it, they receive spiritual formation with a view to their missionary activity.” (Pius XII, ibid., nos.568-569)

Who has not heard of the Circles of St Vincent de Paul, or of the extraordinary work of Legion of Mary during this century?  And precisely, this last one was a Legion, under the command of Mother Church.  All the countries have  had their confraternities, sodalities, their associations, their Third Orders, their organizations for the youth, such as the Eucharistic Crusade which numbered over 3 million children in the early 1930s…  We could go on, and on.  Yes, the Catholic Church is proud of these lay troops who were sent by Her to the conquests of souls in all the spheres of human activities, in the public, economic, social and political life.

Let me finally close with a beautiful text of the same Pope Pius XII,

There has always been in the Church of Christ a lay apostolate.  Saints, like the Emperor Henry II, Stephen, the creator of Catholic Hungary, Louis IX of France, were lay apostles although, at the beginning, people were not conscious of it and the term lay apostle did not yet exist. Women, too, like St. Pulcheria, sister of the Emperor Theodosius II, or Mary Ward - they, too, were lay apostles.

If today this consciousness has awakened and if the term lay apostolate is one of the most frequently used when people speak of the Church's activity, it is because the collaboration of laymen with the hierarchy has never been so necessary, nor practiced in so systematic a manner.

This collaboration assumes a thousand different forms, from the silent sacrifice offered for the salvation of souls, to the good word and example which forces the esteem even of the enemies of the Church, to the cooperation in activities proper to the hierarchy, communicable to the simple faithful, and even to boldness which is paid for with life, but which is known only to God and does not show up in any statistics. Perhaps this hidden lay apostolate is the most precious and the most fruitful of all.

The lay apostolate has, as every apostolate has, moreover, two functions: conservation and conquest, and both are urgently needed in the Church today. And, to speak very plainly, the Church of Christ is not thinking of giving ground without a struggle to her declared enemy, atheistic communism. This combat will be pursued to the end, but with the weapons of Christ!

Set to work with a faith stronger even than St. Peter's when at the call of Jesus he stepped out of the boat and walked on the waters to go to meet his Lord.

During these very agitated years, Mary, the glorious and powerful Queen of Heaven, has given proof of her assistance in many parts of the world in so tangible and marvelous a manner that We recommend to her with unlimited confidence every form of the lay apostolate. (Allocution to 2nd World Congress of the Apostolate of the Laity, Oct. 5, 1957. Directives to Lay Apostles, Solesmes, nos.575-580)

Finally, last February, by a Providential circumstance which I still need to deepen, the SSPX has made the unbelievable acquisition of the major relics of St Simeon François Berneux, 4th Apostolic Vicar of Korea, who died a martyr in 1866.  He was one of the 103 Korean Saints canonized by Pope John Paul II, in 1984.  Believe it or not, these major relics were found at an antique dealer in Holland, and were purchase for our chapel in Berlin, Germany!  The translation of the relics was done on March 14 last, on the same day as the ground breaking ceremony for the future SSPX church in Berlin. This news came to us as we were preparing this very newsletter on Korea.  So, we added a section on this new Saint, linking a once communist divided city to a communist divided country!  Deo gratias!

God bless you, especially at Easter.
Fr. Daniel Couture
District Superior





[1] For 1998, the corresponding figures given by Fides for Asia and Africa, are: 570,000 lay Catechist (not counting the Brothers and the Sisters), 27,600 priests and 85,000 various institutes of education. More than 700,000 people involved, for a population of 4.3 billion.

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