Vatican City - (AsiaNews) - A hope and a prayer: that the bishops "from mainland China come to Rome on pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, as a sign of communion with the Successor of Peter and the Universal Church". This is the only reference to the situation of the Chinese Church that Benedict XVI included in his address today to the bishops of Hong Kong and Macao, received on the occasion of their five-year visit "ad Limina Apostolorum". He made various references, instead, to the action of the Churches of Hong Kong and Macao toward the Church on the mainland, especially regarding the activity of Caritas and priestly formation.
The primacy that the proclamation of the Gospel must always have in the Church's activity was the point of departure for the pope's reflection, following a greeting brought from Cardinal Zen: "All of the Church’s activities", the pope said, "are oriented towards evangelization and may not be separated from the commitment to assist everyone to encounter Christ in faith, which is the primary aim of evangelization: 'Social issues and the Gospel are inseparable. When we bring people only knowledge, ability, technical competence and tools, we bring them too little' (Benedict XVI, homily during the outdoor Mass at Neue Messe, Munich [September 10, 2006]: AAS 98 , 710)".
"The Church’s mission", he added, "is taking place today in the context of globalization". This prompts, on the one hand, "the many social and cultural bonds which tend to promote attitudes of world-wide solidarity and shared responsibility for the good of mankind. On the other hand, there are worrying signs of fragmentation and individualism dominated by secularism which pushes the transcendent and the sense of the sacred to the margins and eclipses the very source of harmony and unity of the universe. The negative aspects of this cultural phenomenon draw attention to the need for a solid formation and call for concentrated efforts aimed at supporting the spiritual and moral ethos of your people". This means dedicating particular attention to the formation of priests, and "to young priests confronted with new pastoral challenges arising from the task of evangelizing a society as complex as today's". The need for careful formation led Benedict XVI to emphasise the importance of Catholic schools. These make "an important contribution to the intellectual, spiritual and moral formation of the new generations". After calling upon those who work in schools to be "witnesses of Christ, epiphany of the love of God in the world", and to posses "the courage of witnessing and the patience of dialogue", serving "human dignity, the harmony of creation, the existence of peoples and peace", the pope - with an implicit reference to the new legislative provisions in regard to the management of educational institutions - expressed his sympathy for the "new difficulties" that these educational centres find themselves facing. A few years ago, the government of Hong Kong passed a law for the oversight of Catholic schools that creates obstacles to freedom in instruction.
"I also encourage your Dioceses", the pope continued, "to continue your contribution to the life of the Church in mainland China, both by offering personnel for formation purposes and by supporting initiatives in the field of human promotion and assistance. In this regard I cannot but recognize the invaluable service which the charitable organization Caritas of both Dioceses has offered to the needy with such generosity and professionalism. We must never forget however that Christ is also for China a Teacher, Pastor and loving Redeemer. The Church must never allow this good news to remain unspoken. I hope and pray to the Lord that the day will soon come when your Brother Bishops from mainland China come to Rome on pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, as a sign of communion with the Successor of Peter and the Universal Church. I willingly avail myself of the occasion", he concluded, "to send to the Catholic community of China and to all the people of that vast country the assurance of my prayers and my affection".