Made in China religious goods: To buy, or not to buy?

On December 16, 1958, five years to the day before I was born, Pope John XXIII denounced China’s treatment of Roman Catholics. At a consistory to elevate new Cardinals, the Holy Father noted that
"for a long time Catholics throughout China have been living under the most difficult circumstances. Missionaries, archbishops, and bishops have been accused of false crimes, thrown into prison, and finally sent into exile. Even bishops who are Chinese by birth have been put into places of confinement, and not a few have been expelled."
Little has changed in five decades, as we read below from this Catholic News Service story:
Rome, Italy, Dec 10, 2010 / 05:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Bernardo Cervellera, a longtime observer of Sino-Vatican affairs, is deeply troubled by recent moves made by China’s communist authorities.
"We are back in the 1950s,” said Fr. Cervellera, a missionary of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and editor of institute’s influential Asia News website.

"Honestly, I would say that with these elections we are taken back to the time of Mao Zedong and the foundation of the Patriotic Association,” the state-authorized Catholic Church established by the communist ruler.
Fr. Cervellera has for many years been a sharp critic of the regime in Beijing and a cautionary voice on the Church’s relations with the regime. In a Dec. 9 interview with CNA he said recent developments do not offer much cause for optimism.The troubles began Nov. 20 when communist authorities appointed Father Guo Jincai a bishop, in express defiance of Vatican wishes and without the Pope's approval. In a gesture that sparked further outrage from the Vatican, authorities forced at least eight bishops loyal to Rome to participate in the rogue ordination.
This week, communist officials again forced bishops loyal to Rome to take part in elections for the government-run Catholic Patriotic Association and Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church.
Neither institution is recognized by the Vatican.
While others see recent developments reflecting a more delicate political balancing act by the two sides, Father Cervellera believes many in the Church are being overly optimistic about the intentions of the communist government in Beijing.
Fr. Cervellera said Chinese officials are sending a clear message that the communist party — and not the Vatican — is in charge of the Chinese Church.
He said the recent elections to the Patriotic Association and the so-called Bishops' Conference were meant "to wound the Vatican" and set up obstacles to unity in the Church.
There’s more to the story, but you get the idea.

All this has me wondering about the support that so many Catholics across the globe, and certainly in America, give to the Chinese government—mostly unwittingly. It seems that much of the religious items I find in Catholic gift stores and supply firms are made in China—and so our funds are helping build a nation that is persecuting our brothers and sisters loyal to Rome.

There are also ecological facets to this concern. China has serious pollution and public health issues due to an economy in overdrive fueled in large part by the West’s desire for low, low prices. We read this from China Daily:
BEIJING - China has lost ground on its resolve to emit less nitrogen oxide this year.
Even though the country planned to reduce its annual emissions of the pollutant by 1.5 percent in 2011, it in fact released 6.17 percent more nitrogen oxide in the first six months of the year than it had in the same period a year ago, according to statistics from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.
The failure to control nitrogen emissions, which are a large cause of acid rain and smog, shows the difficulties the country will face in its attempt to battle pollution without shifting away from its reliance on heavy industries, environmental experts warned.
Nitrogen oxide, which stems mainly from coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions, canirritate the lungs and lower people's resistance to influenza and other respiratory infections.
And from the Wall Street Journal:
BEIJING—Hundreds of people in eastern China carried out sometimes violent protests over pollution they blame on a solar-panel maker's factory, the latest example of unrest spurred by anger over the country's environmental problems.
Authorities detained several demonstrators for alleged theft and vandalism in the protests, which began Thursday and continued over the weekend at the Zhejiang Jinko Solar Co. factory in the city of Haining in Zhejiang province, according to state media and the local government. The company is owned by New York Stock Exchange-listed JinkoSolar Holding Co.
After more than 500 people gathered outside the gates Thursday, demonstrators stormed the factory compound, according the state-run Xinhua news agency, where they flipped over company vehicles and damaged the solar company's offices before police arrived to disperse the crowd. Villagers had complained last month about the deaths of a large number of fish in a nearby river, according to Xinhua.
Chinese citizens have grown increasing bold in challenging the country's widespread environmental woes, despite the threat of government punishment of protesters. While maintaining a tight grip on dissent, authorities have increasingly tried to appear responsive to such complaints, although critics say the ultimate problem is the leadership's emphasis on rapid economic growth and industrialization.
Given all this—the Chinese government’s continued persecution of the Church, its ecological struggles, and its civil unrest over the health of its people—it seems to me that Catholics the world over must give up the low, low prices afforded by China’s super-manufacturing prowess and buy its crucifixes, rosaries, and other religious goods elsewhere.

This raises a question: Is there such a place? Certainly, sin is within all nations and peoples. And, as we see in America, once predominately Christian governments can quickly violate Christian tenets.

But the universality of sin and the inevitable conflicts between the cities of men and the City of God does not undo these questions: Should our religious items be imported from China? Should we send our money there? I fear that there are no easy answers, because real people and families depend on the resulting manufacturing jobs. Indeed, such questions result in moral and ethical questions that far exceed my talents or the purpose of this blog. But for the good of China’s ecology, its people, and their souls, such questions must be asked by Catholics everywhere. And so I ask: To buy, or not to buy Chinese?

I’m interested in what you think.

(One reader chimed in already. She tries to purchase religious items from the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans, as do I. They're a good group doing good work.)

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Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.