10/09/2007, 00.00
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Guangxi: stop the Pope’s Letter, even by brain washing

Obligatory political sessions for Catholic priests, “guilty” of having publicly distributed the Pope’s Letter to China’s Catholics. The office for religious affairs orders the sequester and closure of internet sites, as well as a campaign to stop “Vatican penetration” of its faithful. A similar script to ’99.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Brain washing Catholic priests to convince them of the “error of their ways”; in short of having published and distributed the Pope’s Letter to China’s Catholics: it is taking place in Nanning, a major city of the autonomous Guangxi region, (south west China), where the government has launched a campaign to counter the Vatican “penetration” in the life of the Church.  Meantime in Qingxiu district, close to Nanning, police sequestered and destroyed copies of a parish letter which carried parts of the papal document.

June 30th Benedict XVI published a Letter to the Catholics of China with which he exhorted them to live the Christian mission and witness for the good of their country and to draw closet the underground and official Church, asking all of those involved to witness with greater courage their unity with the Holy See.  In turn, with cordial and respectful terms, the pontiff requested that Chinese authorities respect the religious freedom of the faithful and the appointment of bishops.

Beijing’s reaction to the Letter at the time of its publishing was bland.  But according to AsiaNews, sources the documents distribution has been gravely impeded in a variety of ways.

What is happening in Qingxiu district is emblematic.  There the provincial Office for religious affairs (ORA) has set up an emergency group comprising more than 12 public entities (from the United Front to the district commissions to the police) whose job it is to “draw up a plan to stop the pastoral letter”. An official document from the ORA is a perfect example of what happened in Kanglelu parish: with the permission of its bishop the parish published its newsletter (“Compass”) with extracts taken from the Pope’s Letter.  The secretary of the communist party and the local government gave “maximum attention to the case” gathered together the priests forcing then to a “work of political thought” (in short brainwashing) so that “by learning from their mistake, they may continue to raise the standard of love for the motherland and the Church, and strongly oppose the words and activities of the Vatican”.

The publication of extracts from the papal Letter is judged to be “an activity which damages the Nation and its people”.  This explains why copies were sequestered and the publishing house that printed the newsletter closed down.

Since the Letter’s publication the United Front, the ORA and the Patriotic Association (PA) have organised conventions and seminars the length and breadth of the country, gathering priests, nuns and bishops.  The theme under discussion is the modernisation of the Church (finances, restoration, seminars,…) but also the pope’s Letter.  According to AsiaNews sources in China, in some of these seminars the PA vice-president, Antonio Liu Bainian, violently attacked the papal document judging it a new attempt at “imperialism” and to “colonise” the Chinese Church, along the lines of what happened to the country in the past under Colonial powers.  In Liu Bainian’s mind, the need for religious freedom and independence in the appointment of bishops is the equivalent to making foreign “concessions”, such as the territorial areas subtracted from the control of the central government by western powers during the 19th century.

According to western diplomats Liu Bainian judges the document as an “evil document”, “badly translated into Chinese”, “dangerous from a political point of view” and for this reason he has blocked its distribution, cancelling the text on Chinese Catholic websites, blocking Vatican sites, that of AsiaNews and others that carried it.

 Liu Bainian’s position, fully shared by the ORA, is not that of the entire Beijing government.  AsiaNews reveal that within the Ministry for foreign affaire some well known figures instead judge the Letter “a good document, well translated, the work of experts capable of opening a new road to dialogue”.

As has been made known also by Vatican figures, between the Holy See and the Chinese Foreign Ministry there are some signs of an initial warming in view of possible future diplomatic relations. But the various ecclesial figures both within China and elsewhere doubt the sincerity of these small steps.  They remember that also in ’99, when there was still talk of possible relations, it was revealed in a Communist Party Secret document, dated August 17th, that “whatever the future of Sino-Vatican relations be”, there was an urgent need to reduce obedience to the underground Church and increase the PA’s control on the Official Church.

The ORA document from Nanning is along the same lines. It calls for the Official Churches “network” of contacts and “control system” to be strengthened as well as more powerful “studies and formation of religious leaders” (political brain washing sessions– ndr); and to step up vigilance against the Pope and the Vatican’s “penetration” of China.

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