07/26/2007, 00.00
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Liu Bainian goes back on his invitation to Pope, and the government talks of “changing times”.

Celebrating 50 years of the AP, the Chinese vice premier praises the Association for having guaranteed the Chinese churches independence, urging it to continue its work “with a spirit that changes with the times”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A hurried u-turn by the vice-president of the Patriotic Association (AP) Liu Bainian regarding his “hope” to see the Pope in Beijing, while comments made by the vice-premier Hui Liangyu on the progress of the AP in “times that change” raise a series of questions.

 Yesterday in Beijing the “Catholic Assembly” celebrated 50 years of the Patriotic Association– which depends on the People’s Republic’s Office for Religious Affairs – offering a further occasion for reflection on relations between China and the Holy See.   Liu Bainian, the lay vice-president of the AP – harshly condemned Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to China’s Catholics – he used the governments China Daily to officially renege on the “hopes” he himself had expressed in an interview with the Italian daily Repubblica. “What I meant was – he declared - I hoped the Pope could visit China and celebrate Mass but only after normalization of diplomatic ties”.

The daily newspaper goes on to attribute to Liu the traditional criticism of the Vatican, for diplomatic relations with China and “interference in internal Chinese affaire”, in short the nomination of bishops.

According to China Daily, over 200 people were present at the “Assembly”, Catholics, exponents of other religions and government officials.  Among them, writes state news agency Xinhua, 40 bishops and around 20 priests.  In recent days catholic sources related to AsiaNews that over 5 thousand were invited.

The agency also reports that in his intervention at the “Assembly”, the vice premier said: “The new century, with its new tasks in the new stage, has new demands for the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. There is hope that the association will inherit the outstanding tradition of being patriotic and loving the church, remember its holy mission, and strengthen its work with a spirit that changes with the times”. The statement, while on the one hand seems to query the existence of the AP, - as the Vatican would like to see done – on the other it is obscure enough to allow for opposing interpretations on the actual standing of the Chinese government regarding the Pope’s Letter.   On July 16th last, Vatican Secretary of State Card. Tarcisio Bertone, had underlined the lack of government response, hypothesizing a “moment of thought and reflection”.

During the “Assembly” Hui then praised the AP for having taken steps to guarantee the independence of the Chinese Church.  He urged the association to "hold fast to the principles of independence, autonomy and self-management" and serve as a bridge to lead Catholics to building a socialist nation”.

Liu, his intervention to the same Assembly, revindicated the growth in Catholicism over the last 50 years of the Associations’ existence.  However he also lamented the lack of clergy and in particular the fact that 42 diocese have no bishops.  A potentially threatening reference, this last one given that Lui himself is in charge of illicit Episcopal ordinations, which the Holy See contests. (FP)


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