Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "Profound sadness" over the latest arrest of Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo (in the photo), and for the situation of other bishops and priests who are "deprived of their freedom" has been expressed by the Vatican Commission for the Church in China, which gathered from March 30 to April 1, and yesterday afternoon held a session together with Benedict XVI. The arrest of Bishop Jia (cf. Police arrest underground Zhengding bishop Jia Zhiguo), took place just as the Commission's work was beginning.
The final statement, published today by the Vatican press office, recalls that this lack of freedom is not "an isolated case," and cites "other ecclesiastics," such as many official bishops and priests, "who are subjected to undue pressure and limitations on their pastoral activities." Many prelates recognized by the government, but who have reconciled with Rome, continue to be subjected to "forced vacations," far from their faithful, and to political sessions that last for months, in order to convince them of the goodness of the Party's religious policies, and to subject themselves to the policies of the Patriotic Association.
The members of the Commission desire in the first place to express to them their "assurances of their fraternal closeness and constant prayer, in this season of Lent, illuminated by the Paschal Mystery." The statement frankly expresses that these situations of "uneasy relations with the civil authorities" "create obstacles to that climate of dialogue with the competent authorities" which the pope - in his letter to Chinese Catholics - said he hoped to have.
For a long time, the Vatican had not explicitly mentioned the names and situations of persecution in China, although last year, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, invited by the pontiff to write the meditations for the Via Crucis at the Colosseum, had dwelt upon the issue of China at length, but without mentioning the country by name.
The statement explains that the work of the Plenary Commission focused this time on "the formation of seminarians and of consecrated persons, and on the ongoing formation of priests."
The approximately 3,000 priests (official and underground); the more than 1,500 seminarians (official and underground); the more than 5,000 sisters and novices (official and underground) often have no one who can provide them with formation because of past and present persecution. They lack resources (publications, contacts); they suffer from the significant gap between elderly and young priests, without the generation in between, corresponding to the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), when the seminaries, churches, and convents were closed. More than anything else, they need help in confronting the new situations facing society: urbanization, consumerism, materialism, migrants, scientific atheism, etc.
The statement asserts that "in union with the bishops of the Church in China, those mainly responsible for the ecclesial communities, efforts will be made to promote a more adequate human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral formation of the clergy and of consecrated persons who have the important task of acting as faithful disciples of Christ and of members of the Church, and of contributing to the good of their country as exemplary citizens."
There is also an exhortation to a more decisive missionary impulse by Chinese Catholics in the country and abroad. The statement recalls that the pope, in his letter, had urged the Church in China to feel the mission of the Church in Asia and the world as its own. "The Church," Benedict XVI says in the letter, "always and everywhere missionary, is called to proclaim and to bear witness to the Gospel. The Church in China must also sense in her heart the missionary ardour of her Founder and Teacher . . . Now it is your turn, Chinese disciples of the Lord, to be courageous apostles of that Kingdom. I am sure that your response will be most generous" (no. 17).
According to unofficial reports, Benedict XVI appreciated the Commission's work and fully approved the final statement.