05/23/2009, 00.00
VATICAN - CHINA
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Pope approves Compendium of his Letter to the Catholics of China

by Bernardo Cervellera
The publication two years on from the Letter on the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China. The Letter is furthering unity between the official and underground Church, but the Patriotic Association pounces on their divisions with controls and arrests.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Two years on from the publication of his Letter to the Catholics of China, Benedict XVI has approved a “Compendium” of the document that will be available as of Tomorrow on the Vatican website in Chinese and English.  Tomorrow is also the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, called for by the Pope in the concluding part of his Letter.

According to a statement released by the Holy See press office, the Compendium “reproduces, the basic elements” of the original Letter, but “following the catechetical literary genre of questions and answers”. The Compendium was forcefully called for by card. Zen, former Archbishop of Hong Kong, and great defender of religious freedom in China.  

It “faithfully reproduces, both in structure and language, the content of the original Letter, quoting extended passages from it. With the addition of some footnotes and two short Appendices, the “Compendium” is presented as an authoritative tool facilitating a deeper understanding of His Holiness’ thought on some particularly delicate points”.

One of those “delicate points” is the way in which to confront the Patriotic Association – the organism that controls the official church – whose aims are defined by the pope as “irreconcilable with Catholic Doctrine”.

Many Catholics, both in China and abroad, believe that, in the aftermath of the Letter, a relationship of sorts with the PA is necessary as the “lesser of two evils” and have declared the era of the underground Church over, given its total refusal to collaborate with the PA.

Following the publication of the Letter some underground bishops have sought to have themselves recognised by the government, refusing to become members of the PA. But the government rejected their appeals and they remain illegal bishops and therefore punishable with prison.

The Pope’s Letter was not easily accessible in China: the PA banned its publication and websites that carried it were forced to remove it from their pages.  Some priests who had distributed it were arrested.  The full text of the Letter available on the Holy See’s new website in Chinese cannot be accessed from China.

Today’s statement however confirms that Benedict XVI’s document met with  a “highly favourable reception given to it by the Chinese Catholics who had access to it.”.

One of  the fruits of this Letter is greater collaboration between official and underground Catholics.  Many underground bishops have begun to collaborate in pastoral initiatives with official bishops, but because of this, they met with persecution.  Over the past few months bishops recognised by the government have been called to submit themselves to political sessions on the value that the Chinese Communist Party places on religious policies, that have lasted for weeks and even months.  Underground bishops, for  the large part, remain under constant house arrest.  Moreover, three underground bishops have completely disappeared in police custody.  They are: Msgr. James Su Zhimin (diocese of Baoding, Hebei), 75, arrested and whereabouts unknown since 1996;  Msgr. Cosma Shi Enxiang (diocese of Yixian, Hebei), 86, arrested and whereabouts unknown since April 13 2001; Msgr. Julius Jia Zhiguo, arrested once again on March 30th last as he prepared to work together with the official bishop of Shijiazhuang, Msgr. Jang Taoran.

For the contents of the Pope’s Letter see AsiaNews dossier:    Pope writes to China's Catholics

On the current situation of the Church see:   Persecution in China as Vatican meeting on China opens

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