HONG KONG, JUNE 5, 2009 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican’s compendium of Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics will help the faithful of that Asian nation to find unity, according to the bishop of Hong Kong.
Bishop John Tong Hon affirmed this in a report he sent to Aid to the Church in Need last week, in which he said the Chinese faithful are “impressed by the Holy See’s concern and close attention.”
The compendium, in question-and-answer format, was released May 24. The Communist authorities in China made it hard for the faithful to read the original letter, blocking it from the Internet. Bishop Tong also said there were deliberate attempts to misrepresent the Holy Father’s words.
“Almost anywhere else in the world, Catholics can openly organize a meeting to study a papal document but in China this is still hard to do,” he noted.
Nevertheless, the prelate affirmed that since 2007, there have been strides toward the reconciliation of the “official” and the “underground” Church.
The government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association.
This explains the difference affirmed between the “national” or “official” Church, and the faithful who oppose such control and who wish to obey the Pope directly. The latter constitute the non-official, or underground, Church.
The 69-year-old bishop acknowledged that in the compendium, the Pontiff compares reconciliation to a journey that cannot be accomplished over night.
But, he said, unity is urgent and there is a need for an “exchange of experiences, sharing of pastoral projects, common initiatives, etc.”
“There have been cases where the underground Church emerged into the open too suddenly,” the bishop suggested. “After the underground leaders received government recognition, this premature structural unity between ‘open’ and ‘underground’ Catholics led to more divisions.”
Still, this cannot be an excuse to stop efforts for unity, Bishop Tong declared: “Chinese Catholics need to take steps gradually, to contact each other, pray together, dialogue and cooperate step by step, as the Holy Father expects.”