07/01/2007, 00.00
CHINA – VATICAN
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Pope’s letter is key to China’s development, says Mgr Li Jingfeng

by Joseph Wang
In an interview with AsiaNews, the bishop of Fengxiang—who is recognised by the government without being a member of the Patriotic Association—says that the papal letter makes the right call for unity and is hopeful that Beijing might try a sincere dialogue with the Holy See, a key element to China’s development.

Fengxiang (AsiaNews) – Benedict XVI’s letter to the Chinese Church “is a great message for the whole of China, a message that is very profound about the principles of the Catholic Church, based on the ecclesiology of the Catholic tradition. Its publication came just in time to save the Chinese Church.”

This is what 87-year-old Mgr Luke Li Jingfeng, bishop of Fengxiang (central province of Shaanxi, told AsiaNews with regard to the Letter of the Pope to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China that was published yesterday by the Holy See.

Mgr Li is one of the four bishops Benedict XVI had invited for the Synod of the Eucharist in October 2005 whom the government banned from travelling.

The letter and its appeal to all Chinese priests “go in the right direction,” the bishop said. “Those who follow the Catholic tradition are reassured, whilst those who do not felt the great call from the successor of Peter to God’s flock.”

The call for unity between the two halves, official and underground, of the Chinese Church is therefore “very important.” They want to “find the right way to get closer to one another and join together to become one even though the ‘more underground’ Church will have a hard time trying to back away from the issue of the communion with the Pope.”

According to the bishop it is also important to stress the ‘political’ side of the letter. “From that point of view, it is fundamental because it addresses everyone. If the government accepts the Pope’s words we would all be happy, leaders included. Otherwise things might get worse. We know that it won’t be easy to reach a compromise because both the Church and the government have their own principles. Let us hope that Beijing starts a dialogue with the Holy See and reaches an agreement that accepts ecclesiastic principles.”

“I pray the Lord that the Chinese government may understand the Pope’s message and I hope that it does so for the good of China,” the bishop added. “I always tell our rulers: Look at China. It is really developing and joining the rest of the world but has remained backward as far as the Church is concerned. If China wants to open up to the world, it must open itself to the Church. If this problem is solved, everything else will be solved. Otherwise we shall always be a step behind other countries. I pray for this and that the Pope’s letter might reawaken the Chinese Catholic Church.”

Till 2003 Fengxiang was perhaps the only diocese in the People’s Republic where only the ‘underground’ or non-government recognised Church existed.

In 2004 Mgr Li was recognised by the government as bishop of the Church without having to join the Patriotic Association (PA), the agency in charge of the Catholic Church that was set up by Mao and is managed by members of the Communist Party, many of whom are atheist.

The year after Benedict XVI invited Mgr Li to Rome for the Synod of the bishops on the Eucharist but the government prevented him from leaving.

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