Rome (AsiaNews) -- The letter of the Bishop of Fengxiang to the Pope and the Synod is creating a wave of embarassment and corrections to the course of Vatican policy in China. But as far as the Synod is concerned, there has been total silence in the media.
Last October 18, Cardinal Angelo Sodano read to the synod assembly a letter which Bishop Luke Li Jingfeng wrote to Benedict XVI to thank him for having been invited to the Synod as a member, together with 3 other bishops of the Chinese Church, official and non-official. In his message, Bishop Li expressed his sorrow for not having been able to participate in the Synod and expressed hopes for improvement in diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Holy See. As is known, the Chinese government did not allow any of the 4 bishops to travel to Rome.
News of the bishop's letter and of the one the Pope will write to all 4 invited bishops spread quickly across international media. On October 19, Bishop Li was called by the Shaanxi Province Religious Affairs Bureau and was asked for a copy of the letter sent to the Pope. Since the original was in Latin, the Bureau requested a Chinese translation, which was then sent to Beijing. In other times, a letter to the pope would have been considered a letter to a foreign head of state and would therefore have been looked on with suspicion and the bishop accused of treason and international espionage.
Instead, the following day, Liu Bainian, Vice-President of the Patriotic Association (AP), declared as "normal" the fact that a bishop had written to the pope. His view had been broadcast by the Fengguan weishi (Phoenix TV) television station based in Hong Kong.
It is worth recalling that in September, when the Vatican had announced the invitation to the 4 Chinese bishops, Lui and his office had defined Benedict XVI's gesture as "discourteous" and "lacking in respect toward Chinese Catholics," reaffirming that any contact with Chinese prelates were to pass through the Patriotic Association. In his televised statement, Liu said that he was "pleased" by the Bishop's letter and that of the Pope, even if he specified that "the Pope's greeting will not go only to Bishop Li, but to all the bishops of China."
Liu also said that he is "pleased" by Benedict XVI's invitation to the 4 bishops: "The Pope's gesture," he stated, "expresses the Pope's great attention to wanting to improve diplomatic relations between China and Vatican."
According to prominent Catholic figures in China, the change in tone on the part of the Vice-President of the Patriotic Association is a sign of Liu's alignment to government policy which aims for a less conflictual and more open relationship with the Vatican.
Officials in the Vatican are wondering why the government, after many good intentions, did not give its permission to the bishops to participate in the Synod.
Many Chinese Catholics are asking themselves why an event like the Synod on the Eucharist has not been given any room in Chinese media: no newspaper or television broadcast has mentioned it.
Catholic personalities in Hong Kong point out that perhaps, more than being open to diplomatic relations, the government wants to avoid a conflictual relationship and international humiliation. After the embarrassment suffered for China's absence from John Paul II's funeral, there are those in Beijing who are worried that the Pope's letter to the Chinese bishops will criticize the government for the lack of religious freedom.