Vatican City (AsiaNews) Benedict XVI will personally write to Mgr Luke Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang (Shaanxi), who sent a letter a few days ago to thank the Pontiff for inviting four Chinese bishops to the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
The letter, which arrived at the Vatican on October 6, was read today by Secretary of State Card Angelo Sodano during the Synod's morning session.
"In addition to expressing regrets for not being able to take part in the activities," said Mgr Giorgio Costantino, Italian spokesman of the Synod of Bishops, "the letter expressed hope that the Holy See and China might re-establish diplomatic relations".
Both the Chinese prelate's letter and Benedict XVI's reply should be made public in the next few days.
Russia's Catholics and relations with the Moscow Patriarchate were the main issues raised at a meeting between Moscow Bishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz and the press.
"We are always hoping that the Pope might meet Patriarch Aleksij, whether in Rome, Moscow or in neutral place. Ours are the largest Churches in the Christian world and it will be easier to cope with the challenges of today's world if we are united," he said.
Speaking about the situation of Catholics in Russia, Bishop Kondrusiewicz denied they are involved in proselytising among the Orthodox. He explained though that "we must first make it clear what we mean by proselytising. If it means trying dishonestly to get believers from another Church, then this is neither our policy nor our ambition".
Quoting Vatican II on freedom of conscience, he noted however "that if someone comes to me and saysI want to become CatholicI cannot turn him or her away. I must respect his or her will. This is not proselytising".
He informed the journalists that it takes a year of preparation for an adult to be baptised into the Catholic faith. This gives the would-be convert time to evaluate and freely decide his actions.
He explained that he had already proposed a meeting between Orthodox and Catholics to "define what constitutes proselytising and then act consequently".
He also reported that the situation for Catholics has improved after new visa rules were introduced allowing foreign clergymen to engage in pastoral activities in Russia.
Finally, Bishop Kondrusiewicz described the current pastoral situation in the country. Depending on which source is cited, Catholics are anywhere between 600,000 and 1.5 million or 1 per cent of the population.
They can attend some 220 registered parishes and about 300 unregistered pastoral sites. None the less, about one parish in four does not have any place to celebrate religious functions.
"Celebrations are held in private homes, in Moscow in foreign embassies such as that of the US and Germany, and in Mother Teresa's homes," he said.
In St Petersburg all 6 churches (out of the 18 that existed before the revolution) that survived the Communist era have been returned, but in Moscow only 1 in 3 has.