11/17/2009, 00.00
CHINA - VATICAN
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Official and underground priests in China ponder Card. Bertone’s letter

by Zhen Yuan
The document of the Vatican Secretary of State is "encouraging." Underground priests and nuns have begun to study the letter in groups. Others hope that the Vatican will give more precise information. A young bishop: We too need to be trained". Among the problems: priests too distracted by the Internet and a lack of educators in seminaries.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Letter of the card. Bertone to Chinese priests, published yesterday, was received and read carefully. Bishops and priests in China are convinced that the formation and spiritual growth of priests should be the first concern of the Church.

Marking the Year for the priesthood, the Vatican secretary of state, yesterday issued a letter to all priests in China, official and underground, calling for reconciliation and exhorting them to live out their vocation.

According to AsiaNews sources, many underground communities agreed to hold meetings for priests and nuns for a thorough study of the letter, which they find encourages them to deepen their faith and their spiritual life, especially in this Year for Priests.

Some priests say that the letter has highlighted the crucial issues that priests in China are facing today. At the same time, they hope that the Vatican can also give concrete indications on how to resolve these difficulties.

A 40-year bishop, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells AsiaNews that many priests lack spiritual formation, education and administration in the liturgy in the parish. "Some - he says - are always busy at the computer with internet and are failing to provide spiritual formation for the laity." "We, too, he adds, as young bishops, need education and formation, but we do not receive much support."

Fr. Chen Xiaofeng is dean of studies at the seminary of Shijiazhuang (Hebei). After reading the letter, he said: "The Church in China is in need of dialogue and communication, both among people with different opinions, and between the Church and the government. Mutual respect of views is important".

Regarding spiritual life, Fr. Chen points out that inadequate formation of priests leads them to act inappropriately to their priestly identity. Although the number of vocations is declining in China, the Church must not lower standards in accepting candidates for the priesthood. For this - he says - we need deep discernment of vocations.

According to Father Chen, the formation currently offered to the priests is not enough: "Without proper formation – he states - the priests do not have the energy to live the consecrated life and to serve the Church." The Eucharist, the Word, reconciliation - suggested in Card. Bertone’s letter - are "the source of life", which allows for priestly virtue.

The priests, according to Fr. Chen, also need more theological and human preparation. For this reason - he continues - the presence of a team of educators in the seminaries is important”.

Fr. Chen, himself a teacher at the seminary, reaffirms the importance of seminaries for the education of future priests, but notes that the bishops are often too busy in administrative affairs of the Church. However he is convinced that the Church in China will accomplish this purpose.

According to the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, the, there are about 3 thousand priests in the service of the Chinese Church both official and underground.

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