08/18/2022, 12.50
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Wuhan hosts 'official' national assembly of Chinese Catholics.

In the Hubei city, the "congress" charged with dictating the line and renewing leadership. Vice-minister Cui Maohu praises the "autonomy and independence" of the Chinese Church and calls for "serious study and implementation of Xi Jinping's directives." In the review of the six years since the previous Assembly no mention of the Agreement with the Vatican on the appointment of bishops.

Wuhan (AsiaNews) - The 10th National Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, the most important meeting of the "official" bodies controlled by the Communist Party of China, opened today in Wuhan -- the large city in Hubei that burst onto the world stage because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Assembly is attended by 345 delegates from the country's 28 administrative subdivisions.

The Party sees the Assembly as a kind of congress entrusted with the task of dictating the line to Catholics and renewing the leadership. The first was held in February 1957 in Beijing, and it was at that time that the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics was formed to mark its autonomy from Rome. After the second one, held in 1962, the celebration of the Assemblies was suspended during the years of the Cultural Revolution, when persecution even targeted "official" Catholicism: the third was only held in 1980 when the Council of Catholic Bishops of China, also strictly controlled by the Party, was established.

The 10th Assembly comes six years after the previous one, which was held in Beijing in 2016, and on the eve of the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress with the expected confirmation of a third term for President Xi Jinping. The choice to hold it in Wuhan is clearly not coincidental: the large Hubei city is indeed a place with a long history for the Catholic community in China. In the 19th century, because of its location on the banks of the Yangtze River, the city of Hankou-the historic part of today's Wuhan-was the crossroads of evangelization in the interior of China.

After the victory of Mao's Communists and the expulsion of all foreign missionaries, it was then here on April 13, 1958, that the first ordination of two bishops without the approval of the Holy See took place: they were Msgr. Bernardino Dong Guangqing, bishop of Hankou, and Msgr. Marco Yuan Wenhua, bishop of Wuchang. After the death in 2007 of Msgr. Dong Guangqing (who had meanwhile requested and received a return to communion with Rome) the diocese had been vacant for 14 years. Until the ordination of Msgr. Joseph Cui Qingqi took place at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Wuhan on Sept. 8, 2021, the last one so far under the Sino-Vatican Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops signed "ad experimentum" in October 2018 and renewed for two more years in 2020.  

It was in the Hubei city, therefore, that the three-day National Assembly of Catholics opened in the presence of Cui Maohu, the director of the State Religious Affairs Bureau and vice-minister of the Department of Labor for the United Front, and Ning Yong a member of the provincial assembly and director of the Hubei provincial United Front. The inaugural session took place under the chairmanship of Chengde Bishop Msgr. Guo Jincai, one of the illicitly ordained bishops whom Pope Francis readmitted into ecclesial communion in 2018.

As per usual script, in his speech Vice Minister Cui Mahou emphasized the autonomy of the Chinese Church, praising it for having "strengthened its ideological and political leadership, adhered to the principles of autonomy and independence of the Church under the banner of love of country and religion, promoted the establishment of a Chinese ideology and theology." The vice-minister then did not fail to call on Catholics to "seriously study and implement President Xi Jinping's directives on religious work, as well as the central government's decisions to ensure the principles of autonomy and self-administration, to promote the Chineseization of the Church and the patriotism of the faithful, to strengthen the leadership of the Church and the role of patriotic organs."

After the introduction by Archbishop of Beijing Msgr. Li Shan, it was then the turn of Bishop of Haimen Msgr. Shen Bin to read the working report summarizing the achievements of the last Assembly in 2016 and the work prospects for the next five years. For Msgr. Shen Bin, "the Chinese Church has maintained the correct political direction, united and guided the faithful to hold high the banner of love for the homeland and religion, and preserved the principles of autonomy and self-administration of the Church. It also continued democratic administration, promoted evangelization and charitable services, thus writing a new chapter of history."

It is worth pointing out that - according to the summary of the proceedings circulated by the Patriotic Association - neither the Bishop of Haimen nor Vice-Minister Cui Mahou made any reference to the Sino-Vatican Agreement on the appointment of bishops, which even though it was supposed to represent one of the most significant events that took place in the life of the Catholic Church in China between 2016 and today.

This is a further confirmation of the little weight given by the Patriotic Association to the understanding between the government of the People's Republic of China and the Holy See, which from the point of view of "official" bodies would represent nothing more than a mere ratification by Rome of independently elected bishops. For almost a year, moreover, no new appointments of bishops have taken place despite the fact that Pope Francis expressly called for the renewal of the Agreement when it expires next October.


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