Vatican City (AsiaNews) Four bishops of mainland China were named by Benedict XVI as members of the forthcoming Synod on the Eucharist, which is set to begin in Rome on October 2. News of these nominations was released by the Holy See Press Office this morning, along with the full list of Synod members.
The following four are Among the 36 names listed: Monsignor Anthony Li Duan, Archbishop of Xian, and Monsignor Louis Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai, both recognized by the government; Monsignor Joseph Wei Jingyi, Bishop of Qiqihar, not recognized by the government. The fourth, Monsignor Luke Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang (Shaanxi) was only recently recognized by the government.
Vatican official have told AsiaNews that there is hope that the Chinese government will allow them to come to Rome.
The government in China allows religious activities by recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Bureau and monitored by the Patriotic Association. The faithful who seek to elude government control make up the non-official Church, which is considered to be an illegal organization.
It is the first time since the dawn of Communism in China that the pope has invited bishops of the non-official Church to Rome. For the Asian Synod (April and May 1998), Pope John Paul II had invited the two bishops of Wanxian, Msgr Matthias Duan Yinming and Msgr Joseph Xu Zhixuan, both members of the official Church, even though the former was still one of the bishops named with the approval of Pius XII.
The choice of 4 bishops from the two branches of the Church indicates what has by now become the firm perception that, for the Holy See, there is but one Church in China. Over past years, many bishops of the official Church (at least 85%) have asked to be reconciled with the Pope and the Church, becoming de facto members of the universal episcopate. In recent months, the Vatican was able to name the auxiliary bishops of Shanghai and Xian, who had also received government approval.
The naming of these 4 bishops to participate in the Synod is seen by Vatican figures as a "warm and friendly" indication to the government of China that talks can safely be opened with the Holy See. Last May 12, in a speech to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the Pope had referred to countries "that do not have diplomatic relations", saying that he expressed the hope of seeing them represented at the Holy See sooner or later. Many bishops in China are also trying to convince the government that their relation with the Holy See is an element of religious freedom that is necessary for Catholics and which the government need not fear.
Various signs of détente have been noticeable over past months in relations between the Holy See and the People's Republic. The naming of 4 Chinese bishops to participate in the Synod is an important occasion to see if something has really changed within the Chinese government on the question of religious freedom.
The question that many observers are asking is if the government will allow the 4 nominated bishops to travel to Rome. At the time of the Asian Synod, the two bishops, Duan and Xu, though having been invited, were not granted permission to go to Italy and the Vatican. Two empty chairs could be seen throughout the Synod sessions, drawing attention to the Chinese bishops' absence and to the lack of religious freedom in China.