12/01/2010, 00.00
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Next clash between Beijing and Holy See: Assembly of Chinese Catholics Representatives

by Wang Zhicheng
The gathering appears set for 7-9 December. It takes a few weeks after the illicit ordination of Chengde. Fears, tensions and the resistance of the Chinese Catholic to the Patriotic Association.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Increasingly insistent rumours indicate that the Assembly of Chinese Catholics Representatives, delayed for almost five years, will be held the next December 7 to 9. Bishops recognized by the government should attend the meeting. The Vatican has long expressed its opposition to the assembly and advised bishops not to take part. Benedict XVI, in his Letter to Chinese Catholics, defines the organization and its principles as incompatible with Catholic doctrine. Among Catholics, there is tension and resistance to the pretensions of the Patriotic Association (PA), which wants to build a Church independent from the Holy See. This explains the appeal launched by Benedict XVI during his general audience.

During the Assembly the posts of president of the Patriotic Association (PA) and chairman of the council of bishops are due to be filled, positions which have been vacant since the death of the two leaders in 2007 and 2005 (see: 17/11 / 2010 " Assembly of Chinese Catholics "by the end of the year").

The Assembly is convened just weeks after the illicit ordination of Fr. Guo Jincai as Bishop of Chengde (Hebei), commissioned by the PA against the wishes of the Holy See. The Holy See issued a strong statement condemning the ordination and denouncing "severe violations of religious freedom" as some bishops were kidnapped and forced to participate (see 24/11/2010 Holy See condemns illicit episcopal ordination in Chengde).

According to many local Catholics, the ordination was a show of force to threaten the bishops and the Vatican not to oppose the assembly and the election of new presidents. In addition, the newly ordained bishop Guo Jincai, who as a result is now automatically excommunicated, is apparently in the running for one of the posts.

Catholics fear their bishops will be forced to attend the Assembly, with more kidnappings, threats and punishments, as was the case for the Chengde ordination. Faithful priests of those bishops forced to attend the ordination have written to the Holy See in support of their bishops taken hostage and humiliated by the regime. Bishop Francis An Shuxin, a former underground bishop, who was recognized by the government, and who was also present for ordination, is afraid and ashamed to show himself in public and celebrates mass alone.

The standoff between the official Church and the Patriotic Association is becoming increasingly tense. For weeks, 100 teachers and seminarians at the seminary of Shijiazhuang have been on strike, where for the first time a government representative, Tang Zhaojun, was "elected" vice-rector. So far, government bureaucracy had limited itself to appointing the professors of politics. The seminarians are concerned that this decision - made without consultation with the Church authorities, submits the already difficult religious life of the seminarians to politics.

Last week a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Hong Lei, responded to the Vatican and the universal Churches condemnation violations of religious freedom by the government, with the "claim" of interference in the appointment of bishops, and the accusation that the Vatican is instead responsible for "restrictions of religious freedom and intolerance."

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