01/20/2007, 00.00
VATICAN - CHINA
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The Pope prepares a letter to China’s Catholics

The announcement was made at the end of a 2 day meeting in the Vatican. The Holy See reaffirms its desire to continue a “constructive and respectful dialogue” with the Beijing Government, arriving at full diplomatic relations.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI has decided to shortly “address a letter to the Catholics of China”: this was the important conclusion contained in an official statement released by the Holy See press office at the end of a 2 day meeting held at the Vatican January 19 and 20.  Participating in the meeting which had as its theme “The situation of the Catholic Church in China” were Chinese bishops from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan and the most important representatives from the Secretary of State and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.  The meeting was presided over by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, secretary of state. The statement affirms that “The will to continue on the journey of a respectful and constructive dialogue with the governing authorities in order to overcome past difficulties, emerged. More over, the hope was expressed that a normalization of relations on all levels would come to pass”.

The statement notes that the meeting was called at the express wish of the Pope “in the desire to deepen his knowledge of the situation of the Catholic Church in China”.

The meeting “was animated by a frank and fraternal cordiality” and examined “the most serious and urgent ecclesial problems, which call for adequate solutions based on the fundamental principles of the Church’s divine constitution and religious freedom”. In the last few months in China there have been a series of arrests of priests loyal to the underground Church as well as the ordination of priest without the approval of the Holy See, facts judged by the Vatican to be “a grave violation of religious freedom”.

The statement highlights the “troubled history of the Church in China” and recalls the heroism of many faithful, priests and bishops of the underground church who have suffered persecution: “The Church expresses its profound gratitude for the inspiring witness of the bishops priests and lay faithful, who without compromise, have maintained their loyalty to the see of peter, often paying a grave and painful price by doing so.”

According to AsiaNews data at least 17 underground bishops have disappeared, been arrested or are detained in isolation; 20 priests have been arrested.  The latest arrest took place on December 27th in Hebei.  Of the 9 priests arrested, 5 remain in prison, 4 have been released.

At the same time the statement highlights that the official Church (“almost in it’s totality”) is in communion with the Pope.  “The Church notes with particular joy that almost all of the bishops and priests are in communion with the Holy Father”.  At least 85% of the bishops from the official Church – registered and recognised by the government – have been for years now in contact with the Holy See, contrasting the work of the Patriotic Association bent on creating a Church independent of Rome.

The statement continues “The numeric growth of the ecclesial community in china is further more surprising, where it is called to be a witness to Christ, to look ahead in hope and to measure itself against the new challenges that society is facing”.

Data from the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong show that there are 12 million Catholics presently in China. In ‘49, before the coming to power of Mao Zedong, there were 3 million.  According to AsiaNews sources, in China each year there are over 150 thousand newly baptised most of whom are adults. The important factor is that many of them come from the cultural spheres of the cities, universities and business world.

 In the multiplicity of the participant’s contribution - the statement reads - the will to continue on the journey of a respectful and constructive dialogue with the governing authorities in order to overcome past difficulties, emerged.   More over, the hope was expressed that a normalization of relations on all levels would come to pass in order to allow a peaceful and fruitful life of faith in the Church and to work together for the good of the people of China and peace in the world”.

It is no secret that the Chinese Government for some time now has been sending positive signals to up a dialogue with the Vatican, above all to present to the world in occasion of the Olympics “a great nation” modern and free. However it has to take into account the hard fringe elements of the Party – and the Patriotic Association – that are against the re-establishment of diplomatic relations. China and religious freedom have been ever present on the agenda of Benedict XVI, since the very beginning of his pontificate.

The statement concludes saying that “The Holy Father was fully informed of the proposals reached in the course of the meeting” and  “has benevolently decided to address a letter to the Catholics in China”. It’s probable that more specific questions such as the unity of the Church (official and non), how to deal with illicit ordinations and how to deal with the Patriotic Association, will be directly dealt with by the Pope.  

Some within the Church feel that the Vatican should not open up to diplomatic relations with Beijing until the Church does not enjoy full religious freedom, free from AP oppression. Others suggest to open relations with China and slowly annul the negative influence of the Association.  In fact because of this difference of opinion many Chinese Bishops had asked for the Pope to address the issue in a letter on many occasions. (BC)

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