06/30/2007, 00.00
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Pope’s letter: for truth and love of the Church and China

by Bernardo Cervellera

Rome (AsiaNews) – With the ‘Letter to Chinese Catholics’ published today, Benedict XVI launches the Church and society in China into the third millennium. Putting together “truth and love” the Pope accurately identifies the problems Christians and the Chinese state have to face and moves towards a solution that guarantees a fruitful future for China and the world.

Only the head of the Catholic Church could have written this kind of letter, touching every aspect of the Church’s life in China and its society, with sympathy and understanding even for its political leaders, but also with great clarity about what is necessary and indispensable for the Church, claiming independence in spiritual matters vis-à-vis the system, asking Chinese bishops, priests and faithful to preserve and pass on to the next generations the great treasure which the Catholic faith.

Thoughtfully and in cordial participation, Benedict XVI shares the cries and dismay of Christians “at God's silence in the face of the persecutions,” praising the fidelity of so many “witnesses of the faith, “ the hope of the Church for the future!” At the same time he looks mercifully even upon  those bishops and priests who are illegitimate and in ambiguous situations, urging everyone to live in open unity with the pontiff, to forgive one another, to pastorally work together for mission and the good of Chinese society.

In a loving and open attitude he demands in the name of the Catholic faith the right for the Holy See to appoint its bishops. He calls on underground bishops to seek official government recognition and on official bishops to overcome their fear and publicly acknowlede their ties with the Pope so that bishops and the faithful alike can become reconciled. He especially urges the Chinese Church as a whole to go beyond the defensive mode persecution imposed on it, and try instead evangelising Chinese society, Asia and the whole world by giving itself the necessary means—bishops’ conference, pastoral councils and diocesan administrations—that the task entails. This will mark as it were the end of the time of emergency, and allow the Church of China to become an integral and active part of the universal communion.

Similarly Benedict XVI speaks with “particular interest” and “sincere admiration” about the Chinese people, its culture and socio-economic achievements. With great “respect” for its political leaders, he is reassuring about the Church’s mission—which is not to “change the structure or administration of the State” (nº 4) —and is eager for and open to normalising diplomatic relations. But with equal determination and clarity, he wants a place for the Church in Chinese society “for the good of Chinese Catholics” and “all the inhabitants of the country,” to reawaken its “spiritual energy” and make justice prosper. For this reason he wants an end to improper interference “in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church” and calls on the state to guarantee “authentic religious freedom.” When all is said and done all the Pope wants is for China to become a truly modern state, subject to United Nations conventions to which it is a signatory.

Because he wants to uphold the “unrenounceable principles” of separation between state and Church and protect the Catholic doctrine, Benedict XVI states that the Patriotic Association (PA) is unacceptable. With its attempts at “independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church” the PA runs the risk of distorting the life of the catholic communion itself.

Episcopal appointments by the Pope are an essential part of Catholic doctrine and essential to religious freedom. With his typical openness though, Benedict XVI admits that is always possible to find “an accord” about how to appoint them since recognising the bishops has also “civil effects” (nº9).

Thus spiritual, not political needs have led Benedict XVI to condemn the activities of the PA and demand freedom in matters of appointments. From this point of view the letter does not even touch upon the Taiwan question, so often seen as “important” by the more Stalinist factions of the party and the PA.

The letter is clearly a spiritual message and for this reason will have a greater impact on China than any political row.

The issue’s spiritual nature is best illustrated by the Day of Prayer for the Church in China which the Pope opens every year on May 24, Feast Day of Mary, Help of the Christians, a day in which the National Marian Shrine in Sheshan (Shanghai) is also celebrated. On this day, prayers are said for Catholics and their union with the Pope, and also for their persecutors, waiting for “the morning of the Resurrection” for the Church and Chinese society.

The complete text of the  Letter can be find here: Pope Benedict's letter to the Church in China

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