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  • » 04/15/2011, 00.00


    The Holy See and the Church in China: firm and merciful

    Bernardo Cervellera

    The message from the Commission on the Church in China, released today reiterates the elements necessary for ecclesial communion, after the illicit ordination of Chengde and the Assembly of Catholic representatives in Beijing. No excommunication, but the Pope stresses that faith and unity of the Church are fundamental. Process of cause for the beatification of Paul Xu Guangqi begins. On 24 May the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

    Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Firm and merciful, demanding freedom and open to dialogue with Beijing, the message to Chinese Catholics released today by the Vatican Commission for the Church in China teeters on the brink of this difficult synthesis. The April 11 to 13 meeting came after the two humiliations suffered by Benedict XVI and the Holy See with the illicit ordination of Chengde and the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives: both actions contrary to the instructions of the pope, and in the presence of bishops in communion with the Pope who, willingly or forced, were present at both events.

    The message centers on these two facts and points out that the mandate of the pope is necessary for episcopal ordinations in the name of faith and should not be seen as undue meddling "in internal affairs of a state." The message reminds China of this fact, which similarly to Stalin is always fearful of Vatican  "divisions", and contemporarily those Chinese bishops, who while in formal communion with the pope, are fascinated by the "patriotism" and "independence" of a so-called "conciliar" Church.

    The document is clear in recalling the canonical sanctions (excommunication) linked to acts of disobedience, and demands that every bishop justify himself and explain how and why these events occurred to the Holy See and the faithful, shocked by the affront to the dictates of the pope.

    But the Message - and the pope – does not excommunicate anyone. This is because the Commission is concerned above all about the unity of the Church in China, a Church that three years after the Pope's Letter (2007) which called for reconciliation, is more divided than ever.

    Hence the exhortation to "love, to forgive, and to be faithful," to "safeguard unity and ecclesial communion even at the cost of great sacrifice." Even the Pope, who was present at the Commission’s last session stressed that "the faith of the Church, laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and to be defended even at the cost of sacrifices, is the foundation on which the Catholic communities in China have to grow in unity and communion. "

    The text reiterates its condemnation of organisms which intruding into the life of the Church try to shape it according to "the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church" incompatible with Catholic doctrine. The quotation, taken from the Pope's letter to Chinese Catholics (No. 7) was intended to refer to the Assembly of Catholic representatives, which places itself above the authority of bishops, and the Patriotic Association, which controls the lives of bishops and official community.

    But the document does not suggest any practical action, it merely limits itself to reaffirming ecclesial values. Many unofficial bishops ask their colleagues recognized by the government to be more decisive and courageous, by leaving the PA. But this is not happening because of fear, for fear and convenience: for the past several years the PA has implemented a campaign of "sympathy" towards bishops by giving them huge benefits (new houses, cars, money, ...) making any break, as requested by the Pope, increasingly difficult.

    It is likely that it is precisely this fragility of new bishops - young in their forties who have never lived in a Church independent from the state - to push the Commission to request a more profound formation of seminarians and clergy.

    Even regarding the Chinese government the stance is one of both firmness and magnanimity: the Message reiterates that the appointment of bishops belongs to the Holy See, while at the same time offering Beijing the possibility to reach an agreement on the choice of candidates.

    The message, with "fear and trepidation for the future, launches an appeal (toBeijing?),"so that the problems do not grow and that the divisions are not deepened, at the expense of harmony and peace”. The PA has in fact threatened several times to proceed to appoint dozens of bishops without the consent of the Holy See, regardless of the demands of faith and communion.

    As proof of its desire to collaborate with the Chinese government, the Commission states its willingness to discuss ecclesiastical divisions with it. The government, in fact, want diocese to follow the map of administrative divisions, which means obliterating ancient episcopal sees. So far, the Vatican has held together the two subdivisions, but this proposal gives way to a restructuring of the distribution of bishops in China, avoiding areas of high concentration - eg, around Beijing - and areas where the sees are rather more rare.

    In this time "of disorientation and anxiety" of "pain" and "trials", the Commission (and the Church in China) is comforted by the evidence of the many missionaries and charitable commitments of priests, nuns and faithful, as well as the holiness of the Church and prayer.

    The message notes that the proposal has been accepted from the diocese of Shanghai to initiate the cause of beatification of Paul Xu Guangqi, the Chinese Mandarin baptized by the Jesuits in the early seventeenth century, a great scientific personality of his time much appreciated by Chinese historians, in addition to the cause of beatification of Matteo Ricci.

    It also recalls that May 24, the feast of Mary Help of Christians, celebrated at the shrine of Sheshan (near Shanghai), remains throughout the universal Church a Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

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