Rome (AsiaNews) - Bishops from China will not attend the Synod. So far, none of them have received a passport or a permit to leave the country, they told AsiaNews this morning. There's some hope, "but very little", for Monsignor Luke Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang.
For the Synod on the Eucharist to be held in Rome from October 2 to 23, Benedict XVI had named 4 Chinese bishops to participate, namely: Monsignor Anthony Li Duan, Archbishop of Xian, and Msgr Aloysius Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai, both recognized by the government; and Msgr Jospeh Wei Jingyi, Bishop of Qiqihar, not recognized by the government. The fourth is Msgr Luke Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang (Shaanxi), who was recognized by the government just last year.
Catholics of Qiqihar told AsiaNews that their bishop will certainly not come. Just today, local government officials said yet again that he will be granted neither a permit, nor a passport. They also said that "China and the Vatican agreed upon" this decision. Ever since receiving the Pope's letter of invitaiton, Msgr Wei, age 47, had been going each day to request a passport, but his request was refused each time. In the meantime, Msgr Wei wrote to Benedict XVI to thank him for the honour bestowed on him and the people of China by the invitation.
As for the reasons for refusing permission, local authorities explained that "everything depends on diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican; as long as there are no relations, it will be difficult to arrange such visits." But members of the government made it understood that the strongest opposition to the bishops' participation in the Synod came from the Patriotic Association.
Following the publication of the list of Synod members, Liu Bainian, Vice-President and Secretary General of the Patriotic Association had stated that the Vatican had been "discourteous" for having invited the bishops without having gone through the official channels which manage Church affairs, namely the Patriotic Association and the council of Chinese bishops.
The Patriotic Association is not an Church entity, and includes among its members atheists connected to the Communist Party; it aims to control -- economically also -- the Church and to develop a Church which is independent from the Holy See.
The Bishop of Shanghai, Msgr Jin Luxian, agrees that Liu Bainian was the figure most opposed to seeing the bishops travel to Rome. Instead, the Director of the Religious Affairs Office, Ye Xiaown, took a different stance. During a trip to Hong Kong, over a week ago, he had stated that "it was unlikely that the bishops would go to Rome," but there "was still room for dialogue with the Holy See." Unlike Liu Bainian, who considers the Vatican's invitation a "discourtesy", Ye said that he considered it a gesture of "Benedict XVI's friendship to China."
Nevertheless, the conclusion remains unchanged: Msgr Jin Luxian too has yet to receive his passport. He told AsiaNews that Ye "is still deliberating with the Holy See to find a solution. There is still hope, though very little." Msgr Jin, age 89, personally thinks that he will not be able to go to Rome: he was diagnosed a year and a half ago with angina which prevents him from travelling. Msgr Jin says that the delays and difficulties with which Beijing responds to such requests depends on mutual incomprehension between China and the Holy See: "the government does not understand the Vatican; the Vatican does not understand the Chinese government." The Bishop of Shanghai announced that Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, is to travel to Shanghai at the end of October. "I truly hope that this visit will smooth out a lot of incomprehension," he told AsiaNews, "Still, you must pray for China: politics is powerful, but God is even more powerful."
Msgr Anthony Li Duan, Archbishop of Xian, age 78, stressed that what prevents him primarily from going to Rome is his health: "I have a tumour which prevents me from even standing up: it is quite impossible for me to travel." He also added that the government has not given any word and that he "heard" that deliberations are still underway, but "it's all quite unclear to me."
Msgr Luke Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang, has also yet to obtain a passport or a travel permit. But he is the most hopeful. Though being 84 years of age, he is in good health, and has a good relationship with the authorities of Shaanxi. For China's National Day, tomorrow, October 1st, representatives of the provincial government will pay him a visit.
He told AsiaNews: "This inviation is a good step by Pope Benedict towards improving relations with China: it is a great sign of friendship and esteem towards the Church in China." Msgr Li Jingfeng defends the Vatican, which did not invite these 4 members of the Synod through the Patriotic Association and the council of bishops: "This invitation comes from the highest organ of the Church: there is no need for the permission of the Patriotic Association and the council of bishops. Being such a public and international invitation, there is of course need for approval from the government, but not from the Patriotic Association.
Liu Bainian and Ye Xiaown had said that one of the difficulties for granting permission was the simultaneous presence of the bishops of Taiwan and of mainland China. Msgr Li was frank: "I told the authorities: the Pope is universal pastor. He invites Chinese bishops from all over: mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan,...and the Synod is not a political matter, but religious."
(the photo shows Msgr Luke Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang)