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  • » 07/02/2007, 00.00


    Subdued but predictable reactions in China to Pope’s letter

    The government again reiterates its two pre-conditions for diplomatic dialogue (non interference in Chinese affairs and break with Taiwan), but unlike the 2000 martyr canonisation affair, this time it has taken soft approach. The underground Church rejoices, whilst the official Church, which is under an even tighter control, is moving cautiously.

    Rome (AsiaNews) – The Chinese government is embarrassed and unhappy about the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics. Among the faithful in both the official and underground Church the letter caused a great deal of enthusiasm. Official bishops have not yet made any comment however.

    In China reactions among Catholics and non Catholics to Benedict XVI’s letter to the clergy and the faithful have varied but were more or less as expected. There was much enthusiasm and a renewed sense of fidelity to the Holy See among official and underground Catholics. But official bishops have been careful because of the tight controls under which they operate.

    A few hours after the publication of the Pope’s letter about “truth and love,” Church unity and the need for religious freedom protection, the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Beijing released a terse communiqué that, without taking into account what is for many one of the most beautiful letters ever sent by a Pope to the faithful in China, expressed hope that the letter would not create any more obstacles in the Sino-Vatican dialogue. The statement reiterated China’s two pre-conditions to the restoration of diplomatic relations, namely the “Vatican must sever its so-called diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognize the People's Republic of China as the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China,” and promise that it will “never interfere in China's internal affairs, including in the name of religion.”

    This in itself for some experts is a sign of modest progress. In the past Chinese reactions to Vatican initiatives were much harsher.

    The canonisation in 2000 of Chinese martyrs is one example. At that time Beijing launched a violent campaign against the Vatican, including personal attacks against the Pope, arrests of underground bishops and forcing official bishops to toe the line.

    The subdued albeit predictable response (the two pre-conditions have been repeated for the past 20 years) shows at least a certain government embarrassment vis-à-vis the Pontiff’s inalienable demands on Episcopal appointments and real religious freedom.

    As a token of courtesy, the Holy See provided the Chinese government with a copy of the letter ten days before its publication.

    For some observers a subdued reaction is evidence that the country’s leadership is divided between those who want to modernise it and those who want to maintain a Stalinist hold, including over the Church. In fact, China’s Foreign Affairs and Religious Affairs Ministries have already expressed different points of view in the past.

    Whilst the government responded last Thursday and Friday to the publication of the papal letter in mild tones, the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China met most official bishops in Huairou, near Beijing, instructing them to keep calm about what the letter said.

    Ye Xiaowen, director of the state Council's State Administration for Religious Affairs, was there. He supposedly addressed the participants telling them that “[w]e have served you with maotai, the best liquor in China. After drinking it, you no longer need foreign wine,” which is one way of reasserting the plan to set up an independent Chinese Catholic Church, something that the Pope cannot countenance since it is contrary to Catholic doctrine.

    By contrast, there is a lot of rejoicing among believers in both the official and underground Church.

    “They don’t want us to show our enthusiasm and our unity with the Pope,” a Beijing catholic told AsiaNews, but “we are happy about the letter and the Pope’s condemnation of the Patriotic association.”

    Formally known as the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), this entity was created by Mao with the explicit goal of controlling China’s Catholic community. Many of its officials are not even Catholic.

    Among the faithful issues like the family are important. Removing special prerogatives from (underground) bishops and priests is another and so is the suggestion to all bishops that they set up all the necessary diocesan structures that are typical of the Catholic Church like diocesan administrations and pastoral councils, etc.

    Conversely, Liu Bainian, CPCA deputy chairman, said that his organisation would not distribute the letter.  This would make it difficult for the Church to do it on its own because religious publications need government authorisation. Liu noted that Catholics can download the text from internet but in recent days the Vatican website has not been easily accessible in China.

    So far official bishops have not made any public comments about the letter, fearful perhaps of what the Pope’s categorical refusal to accept CPCA’s control of the Church might do.

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    See also

    30/03/2009 CHINA – VATICAN
    Persecution in China as Vatican meeting on China opens
    An underground priest is arrested in Hebei for celebrating Mass. Controls are tightened ahead of the anniversary of the death of Mgr Joseph Fan Xueyan, killed under torture in 1992. Like him many underground bishops and priests have disappeared or ended up in camps. Official bishops are also under pressure to submit to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The Commission for the Catholic Church in China begins a meeting today in the vatican.

    25/07/2007 CHINA
    The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association celebrates 50 years at a less than ideal moment
    Founded on August 2, 1957, the association is less and less able to serve its original purpose, namely to manage the Catholic community on behalf of the government. Some 5,000 invited guests are expected for the celebrations but many will be absent.

    24/07/2007 CHINA – VATICAN
    Cardinal Zen warns against confusion surrounding the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics
    The bishop of Hong Kong contradicts some of the claims made by sinologist Father Heyndrickx who suggests that the papal document encourages members of the underground Church to come out into the open, ask for recognition by civil authorities and concelebrate services with officials from the official Church.

    21/10/2010 CHINA - VATICAN
    Card. Zen’s visit to Shanghai may be a trap set by Beijing
    According to some commentators, on his visit to Shanghai the, cardinal advised the local bishop to attend the meeting of Catholic representatives, a body that the pope considers "incompatible with Catholic faith." The Cardinal responds.

    09/12/2010 CHINA – VATICAN
    Assembly elects new leadership, causing major harm to the Church
    Ma Yinglin, an unlawfully ordained bishop, will head the Bishops’ Conference. Fang Xinyao, a bishop in communion with the Pope, will lead the Patriotic Association. Three unlawfully nominated bishops are in the new leadership. Catholics worry more ordinations without papal mandate will take place in the future. One priest thinks the government has deliberately caused chaos.

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