Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Card. Joseph Zen has expressed great satisfaction for the "clarity" of the final communiqué of the Vatican Commission on the Church in China. In an initial response to the statement released today, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, tells AsiaNews that "the clarity of the statement allows many more Catholics in China to understand the current and most essential issues". Among them he cites the request made to the bishops for greater communion with the pope by not participating in meetings that contradict this communion, and mention made of bishops and priests who "are deprived of liberty."
The Vatican Commission for the Church in China was called at the express request of Benedict XVI after the publication of his Letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007. This weeks gathering (March 22 to 24) was its third plenary session, and drew together 30 people from members of the Curia (Secretary of State and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples), Chinese bishops from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, various experts and members of religious congregations and missionary institutes. At the end of the meeting, the group met the Pope, who thanked them all for their commitment.
The press statement – the full text of which is available on our website - highlights four issues which were addressed during the session: the formation of seminarians, priests and religious and the role of bishops in this field; unity and reconciliation of bishops, priests and faithful of the official and underground communities; communion in the Church and the relationship with the pontiff; relations with the Chinese government and the situation of imprisoned bishops and priests.
The training of religious personnel is a key issue for China. Because of the difficulties of the past and present, China lacks professors, experts, spiritual directors, while Chinese society is evolves at a spiralling rate. An important affirmation of this statement is that it has designated the bishops of the diocese as responsible for formation: they should therefore be accorded to them "full dignity and responsibility as leaders of the church communities…engaged firsthand in the task of formation".
On communion in the Church and with the pope, the participants were unanimous in the desire that "all bishops in China are increasingly engaged in fostering the growth of unity of faith and life of all Catholics" and so they must avoid "making gestures (such as, for example, celebrating the sacraments, ordinations of bishops, attending meetings) that contradict communion with the Pope, who appointed them shepherds, and creating sometimes agonizing difficulties within their ecclesial communities. "
This clarification is important because it actually refers to the gathering of the National Assembly of Catholic representatives, due to be held in the second half of 2010. This meeting is considered superior to the bishops and which "democratically" decides pastoral guidelines, candidates to the episcopate, etc .... It is one of the structures deemed "incompatible with Catholic doctrine" (see the Pope's Letter to Chinese Catholics, n.7). The Assembly is set to decide the future president of the Patriotic Association and the head of the council of Chinese bishops (a sort of Episcopal conference not recognized by the Holy See).
In the past months Card. Zen has explicitly asked Chinese bishops not to participate (See: AsiaNews.it, 03/01/2009 Cardinal. Zen asks Chinese bishops for more courage) and his appeal must have been accepted because the Patriotic Association has continuously postponed the date of the meeting, perhaps because it is unable to find a sufficient number of prelates willing to be manipulated.
The Cardinal welcomes this emphasis on communion with the Pope and says that now "the Commission, despite having members with different histories and experiences, after three years has reached a maturation of shared understanding" despite the different “sensibilities that are mutually enriching”.
In order to enhance the communion of the Church in China with the universal Church, the statement recalled the World Day of Prayer May 24, feast of Our Lady of Sheshan, the national shrine not far from Shanghai, where for decades Catholics have come together to pray for all China. Since the pope has mentioned this in his letter, every year the police create difficulties making it almost impossible to reach the shrine.
"With the day of prayer for China, May 24 – says Card. Zen - the universal Church is reminded of China. Through the spiritual ties difficulties can be overcome and we can seek greater unity in the Church community and among the pastors and the people. "
Finally, the statement calls for "a respectful and open dialogue between the Holy See and the governing authorities" of China, to the benefit of the Church and civil society. But it also remembers "those bishops and priests, who have long been deprived of liberty."
As often noted by AsiaNews, currently there are three underground bishops in China in police custody, segregated in unknown places and dozens of priests in prison or forced labour camps and dozens more bishops unable to carry out their ministry. Card. Zen has often asked the Chinese government for their release (see: AsiaNews.it, 24/09/2009 Cardinal Zen calls on China to release imprisoned bishops on its 60th anniversary).