Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Card. Joseph Zen of Hong Kong has published a guide for Chinese Catholics to explain the letter Benedict XVI wrote to Chinese Catholics in 2007. The small booklet of 22 pages (in Chinese, in Italian of 28), published on the diocese website, analytically focuses on burning questions such as the way in which underground and official bishops should act with regards the Patriotic Association, the Party body that controls the life of the Church in order to create a national church, separated from universal communion and the Pope. The cardinal also devotes several paragraphs to a call for a reconciliation of hearts between the official and underground communities.
Card. Zen sees the influence of the PA (along with the National Assembly of Chinese Catholics representatives, who consider themselves above their own bishops), is "the most obvious cause of the painful situation of the Church in China". The pope himself, in note 7 of his letter, places these organisms among the main causes of "conflicts", "divisions", "suspicions" "complaints" that generate a "worrisome weaknesses" in the ecclesial community.
The cardinal also tackles some of the much debated issues within Christian communities in the aftermath of the papal letter:
1) First; If an underground bishop must be recognized by the government, as required by the Ministry for Religious Affairs. Together with the Pope, Cardinal. Zen states, in union with the pope this is possible, "provided that it [the recognition] does not entail the denial of essential principles of faith and of ecclesiastical communion." The cardinal - correcting some interpretations currently in vogue - explains that this should not be done at all costs, but with "great caution", "on consulting his [the bishop] presbytery”, but without violating "inalienable principles ". This explanation seems to fit the situation that emerged in recent weeks in the diocese of Baoding, where the coadjutor bishop Francis An Shuxin emerged from hiding, celebrated with an illegitimate bishop, and adhered to the PA. The event has generated great division and pain among the faithful and priests of the diocese (See AsiaNews.it, 29/10/2009 In Hebei, underground bishop joins Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association).
2) If the experience of the underground community is now outdated. Card. Zen explains: "Taking into consideration the phrase "the clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church's life"(Letter of Pope, n. 8), some argue that after the Pope's letter there is no longer any reason for the faithful to remain in hiding. This is a clear example of an out of context interpretation. The clandestine condition is certainly abnormal, but it is forced by an abnormal situation, and until the situation remains abnormal there are reasons to remain in hiding. To do otherwise would be to “accept interference from State agencies in matters pertaining intimately to the life of the Church”. Misinterpretation would incite the clandestine community to surrender the undue interference of the regime, while the letter of the Holy Father encourages official communities to free themselves of it".
3) Official bishops recognized by the Holy See must increasingly give "unequivocal signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter" (Letter of Pope, 8). Card. Zen says that the situation of the official bishops is ambiguous because although they are recognized by the Vatican, they are also members of the PA. They are in a situation of "compromise, because the structure in which they are involved is an (objectively) unacceptable structure, but in their hearts they (subjectively) do not intend to accept it and tolerate it temporarily in the hope and effort to change it as soon as possible”. Precisely because of this, however, the cardinal notes that these bishops must be “consistent" and must not allow themselves to be exploited to publicise the ideals of the PA: "How can someone consider himself in communion with the Apostolic See if shouts his support for an independent Church at every available opportunity?”. Some months ago card. Zen criticized some official bishops, including the bishop of Beijing, who took part in the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the election of independent bishops (cf. AsiaNews.it, 3/1/2009 Cardinal Zen asks Chinese bishops for more courage) .