Hong Kong (AsiaNews/UCAN) Greetings from different parts of the unofficial, 'underground' Church have been sent to the new Pope. In their messages, these persecuted Catholics congratulate Benedict XVI for his election but also urge him not to neglect them.
In a message from one underground community in north-western China, Catholics asked him "not to forget the suffering Church in China" because it struggles "without any freedom at all."
Their message says that ever since China's Religious Affairs Regulations came into effect on March 1, underground Catholic priests must report weekly to Religious Affairs officials on their activities and must ask public security officials for permission to leave the parish.
Underground Catholics in Wenzhou diocese, Zhejiang province (eastern China), wrote to the new Pontiff on April 20, expressing the hope he would visit China soon and bring them "light and freedom" as well as lead them "in love and truth toward full communion with the universal Church."
Many Catholics went to some lengths to watch Benedict XVI's inaugural mass on a Hong Kong-based satellite TV; some even went so far as renting rooms in selected guesthouses to watch the ceremony in freedom.
A local source said that a "Catholic internet site also webcast the inaugural mass, but the connection was slow, so viewing quality was not good."
The same source said that Chinese Catholics have decided to print photos of the new Pope with a biographic note in the back to commemorate the beginning of his pontificate.
It also said that the period of "vacant see" that lasted from John Paul II's death on April 2 till Benedict XVI's election on April 19 generated a lot of interest in the Church, so much so that "even government officials came to ask if we were going to celebrate the selection of the new Pontiff".
Benedict, the name Joseph Ratzinger chose after becoming pope, has special resonance for Catholics in China. Pope Benedict XV (1914-1922) made special efforts for the Church in China, enabling his successor Pius XI to ordain the first Chinese bishops in 1926.
Retired underground Bishop Casimir Wang Milu of Tianshu, Gansu province (north-western China) quoted Pope Benedict XV in his message of congratulations. He mentioned that Maximum Illud, the apostolic letter Pope Benedict XV issued on November 1, 1919, summoned the Church in China to develop local clergy to manage her affairs and proclaim the Good News.
Bishop Wang noted that the apostolic letter urged Chinese Catholics to sacrifice themselves for the sake of evangelisation, not to indulge in court disputes, not to ask for compensation, but to forgive with love.
He also said that "Pope John Paul II had hoped to visit China, a hope that was never realised."
The prelate added that he was praying intensely so Benedict XVI might one day visit China
The term 'underground Church' refers to Catholics who practice their faith in private, refusing to join the Catholic Patriotic Association, an organisation under the control of the official Church, that is intended to support a national Church without ties to the Holy See.