Released Chinese bishop seeks reconciliation

A Vatican-recognised Chinese bishop who was recently released after more than 10 years house arrest says he wished to work for the "communion and development" of China's underground and government-sanctioned "open" Catholic communities.

UCA News reports that Bishop Francis An Shuxin of Baoding diocese in Hebei, about 145 kilometres southwest of Beijing, has now gained the government's recognition of his position as a bishop and is permitted to do pastoral work openly under the government's management.

However, even though he is now part of the government-approved Church, he said he has not joined the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and has not received an official identity card.

The CCPA, which serves as a bridge between the Communist government and the open Church, upholds the principles of "independence, autonomy and self-management" for the Church in China.

The 57-year-old prelate said that he decided to "come out" and join the open Church "for communion and development" of both Church communities. The Holy See also supports such moves toward reconciliation, he continued.

Bishop An was detained in March 1996 during crackdowns on the underground Catholic community of Baoding and placed under house arrest. "My freedom was restricted but I was well taken care of," he said.

The prelate was released a few days after he concelebrated a Mass with government-sanctioned clerics on 20 August. The local government had demanded that as a sign of his membership in the open Church, he should concelebrate the Sunday Mass with government-recognised Bishop Su Changshan of Baoding and seven open Church priests in the presence of 700 Catholics.

"If both sides don't achieve reconciliation in the Sacraments, our talk about reconciliation is just empty words," Bishop An remarked. He said he regretted that he had not realised the importance of communion earlier.

Leaders of Baoding's open Church community said they welcomed Bishop An joining them, but that full reconciliation is still a distant dream.

Fr Joseph Yang Yicun, a concelebrant, told UCA News that the Mass was offered for unity and solidarity. The congregation warmly welcomed and applauded Bishop An, he noted.

Baoding has been a stronghold of the underground Church, which has about 80 priests, 100 nuns and about 100,000 Catholics. The open Church community in Baoding has one bishop, 15 priests, about 10 nuns and 10,000 Catholics.

Bishop An has placed a priority on trying to unite the underground community, which is split over the issue of him joining the open Church.

According to a local Church source, Bishop An's release has aroused fierce debate among Catholics, some of which has taken place in chat rooms of some mainland Catholic websites.

Former Underground Bishop Joins Open Church, Wants to Reconcile Both Communities (UCA News, 12/9/06)

Chinese bishop released after 10 years in prison (CathNews, 28/8/06)
Holy See sends envoys to Beijing for secret talks (CathNews, 19/6/06)
China's first Catholic non-profit approved but arrests continue (CathNews, 4/8/06)
Pope declares diplomatic war with China (CathNews, 5/5/06)
Pope names four mainland Chinese bishops to October synod (CathNews, 9/9/05)
Rome condemns arrest of Chinese bishops/murder of Korean hostage (CathNews, 23/6/04)
Chinese bishop freed from detention after foreign visitors depart (CathNews, 17/3/04)

13 Sep 2006