Chinese Bishops Still Have a Chance at Rome

4 Might Be Able to Attend Synod After All, Says AsiaNews

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ROME, SEPT. 12, 2005 (Zenit.org).- It’s still an open question whether four bishops from mainland China will get government permission to travel to Rome for an upcoming synod.

Initially, press reports said that the Chinese government had rejected the idea of letting the four prelates attend the Synod of Bishops next month.

Benedict XVI had invited the prelates, only three of whom are officially recognized by Beijing.

“An unidentified spokesman of the [government-backed] Patriotic Association and the College of Chinese Bishops expressed their ‘displeasure’ for the invitation extended by Benedict XVI to four Chinese bishops,” explained Father Bernardo Cervellera, director of the AsiaNews agency of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions.

According to the government-backed agency, the priest said, “The Vatican’s public announcement ‘shows no respect for the 5 million Catholics in China, their bishops, the College of Bishops and the Patriotic Association, and for the decision-making process of these two entities.'”

“The unidentified spokesman concluded that, given the faltering health of some of the bishops invited, and given the diplomatic relations that exist between the Vatican and Taiwan, the bishops will not be able to go to Rome,” explained the AsiaNews director.

A shift

Now, however, “news which has reached AsiaNews from China over the last few days does not coincide with the statements of this mysterious spokesperson,” Father Cervellera said today.

“To begin with, Catholics and bishops are pleased by the invitation and think that it is an honor for the Church and for China,” he added.

Moreover, according to AsiaNews, the 5 million official and 8 million “underground” Catholics are celebrating the appointments and have decided to pray, fast and recite novenas so that the government will give its permission to the four prelates.

“Our impression is that the last word has not yet been said on the four bishops’ invitation to Rome,” said Father Cervellera. “A Chinese Catholic told AsiaNews that ‘if the government wants to send the bishops to Rome, no Patriotic Association can stop them.'”

“The last word in fact belongs to President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. One factor that is still a source of some hope is what appears to be a certain detachment from the normal practices of the Patriotic Association in government decisions,” continued the priest.

“Harmonious”

He added: “With the Stalinist and Cultural Revolution mentality of its executives, the Patriotic Association is, at this point, creating more problems than solutions for Chinese Catholics. In many regions, there is enough tension between the Patriotic Association executives and the faithful, both underground and official, to jeopardize the project of the ‘harmonious society’ close to the people that Hu Jintao has been pursuing.”

Father Cervellera said that the recent “naming of the auxiliary bishops of Shanghai and Xian came about with the tacit agreement between the Vatican and the government, without going through the Patriotic Association.”

The prelates invited to the Oct. 2-23 synod in Rome are Archbishop Anthony Li Duan of Xian, Bishops Louis Jin Luxian of Shanghai and Luke Li Jingfeng of Fengxiang (all recognized by the government), and “underground” Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar.

In China, the government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Office of Religious Affairs and under the control of the Patriotic Association.

Faithful who are opposed to this control and who wish to obey the Pope are members of the “underground” Church.

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ZENIT Staff

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