China bishops, leaders positive on papal letter

Bishops and priests from both the "underground" and "official" sections of the Church in China have expressed their satisfaction with Pope Benedict's letter with one government-backed bishop saying the documents provides guidelines to "move forward".

UCA News reports that some Catholic Church leaders in China who have read the pope's letter to mainland Catholics say they feel positive about it and are willing to heed the pontiff's call for unity in the China church.

Nuns and members of the Catholic hierarchy in China shared told UCA News that they had already read the 50-page Chinese version of the papal letter several times.

In some places in China's Hebei province, thousands of copies have been printed.

"Underground" Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar and a few other church leaders told UCA News they are grateful to the pope for his concerns about the China church.

Bishop Wei, based in Heilongjiang province, northeastern China, noted that the letter provides practical guidelines for church life and evangelisation in China, and gives directions for the China church to move forward.

On 3 July, the bishop was asked to meet provincial religious affairs officials about the papal letter, UCA News learned.

An underground priest from Baoding Diocese, Hebei province, agreed the letter is significant. "It is time for Rome to say something," to give a clear and definite stance, he said, which is "to be friendly to those whose stance is opposite to yours."

By revoking all previously granted faculties and directives designed to address particular necessities, he continued, the letter urges the China Church to gradually return to the universal church.

"Certain people may not accept or understand it," he said, but he thinks every Catholic should, in obedience, "accept the document unconditionally" as this is the only responsible attitude toward the future of the church here.

Bishop Wei said he completely agrees with the pope, especially on the revocation of past faculties and directives given the changed situation.

The Holy See had previously granted special faculties that effectively allowed underground bishops to ordain other bishops and to ordain priests without formal theological education. It also urged Catholics to avoid receiving sacraments from bishops or priests who belonged to the Catholic Patriotic Association, a government-approved structure to administer the "open" church in China.

Some underground clergy around China told UCA News they would gather priests and laypeople together to study the letter carefully.

One of them said he wants to ask all clergy from the open and underground communities to make their stance over the letter clear in order to work out a plan.

An open church lay leader in central China, a scholar, thinks it would not be too difficult for open church clergy to accept the document. However, how to put its recommendations into practice is crucial, he said.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong says mistakes have been made in Chinese translations of both Pope Benedict's letter and the Explanatory Note accompanying the letter.

Pope's letter motivated by love for China and the Church, says Vatican spokesman (Catholic News, 3/7/07)
China church leaders welcome papal letter, say they need time to digest it (Catholic Online, 3/7/07)
Cardinal Zen decries mixed messages in pope's letter to China (Kyodo, 3/7/07)
Report: Chinese church official attacks Hong Kong cardinal over pro-democracy protest (International Herald Tribune, 3/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Church in China (Catholic Hierarchy)
Roman Catholicism in China (Wikipedia)
Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association

Benedict's letter "different": Chinese church leader (CathNews, 3/7/07)
Benedict reaches out to China (CathNews, 2/7/07)
Benedict to write to China seeking "normal" diplomatic relations (CathNews, 22/1/07)
Monasteries pray for Pope's China letter (CathNews, 26/6/07)
No China ties unless Vatican appoints bishops (CathNews, 22/5/07)
China bishop still missing (CathNews, 17/4/07)
"Christian explosion" among Chinese intellectuals, expert finds (CathNews, 23/3/07)
No rest for Zen, Pope decides (CathNews, 22/3/07)
Bibles for Beijing Olympics (CathNews, 12/3/07)

4 Jul 2007