Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Pope’s Letter to Chinese Catholics

Finally we can read this extraordinary Document. It is clear, full of love, pastoral… We recommend that you take a few minutes and read it. It is worth it! You can find it here: Letter from the Holy Father.

We are also sharing two short articles about this Document taken from the International Herald Tribune. Here they are:

Pope calls for reconciliation of Chinese Catholics

VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI urged all Roman Catholics in China to unite under his authority, praising the underground faithful for their loyalty to Rome but saying they should reconcile with Catholics of the official state-run church.

At the same time, Benedict called the state-run China Patriotic Catholic Association "incompatible" with Catholic doctrine. He lamented the lack of religious freedom in China and insisted on his right to appoint bishops, although he said he hoped an agreement could be reached with the government on nominations.
In an unprecedented overture to the official church on Saturday, he revoked previous Vatican regulations that had called for limiting contact with official clergy and for excommunicating bishops consecrated without his consent.

Benedict issued his comments in an eagerly awaited letter to the faithful in China that represented his most significant effort to date to unify the nearly 12 million Chinese Catholics and restore diplomatic relations with Beijing — key priorities of his papacy.

China did not immediately respond directly to the letter's contents, but the Foreign Ministry in Beijing called on the Vatican to sever ties with rival Taiwan and not interfere in Beijing's internal affairs in the name of religion. Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said it had "taken note" of the letter and that China would "continue to have a frank, constructive dialogue with the Vatican in order to resolve differences between the two sides."
China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Communist Party took power. Worship is allowed only in the government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops.

Millions of Chinese, however, belong to unofficial congregations that are not registered with the authorities and have remained loyal to Rome.

On several occasions in the letter, Benedict praised the Catholics who had resisted pressure to join the official church and paid a price for it "with the shedding of their blood."

But he urged them to forgive and reconcile with others for the sake of unifying the church.
"Indeed, the purification of memory, the pardoning of wrongdoers, the forgetting of injustices suffered and the loving restoration to serenity of troubled hearts ... can require moving beyond personal positions or viewpoints, born of painful or difficult experiences," he wrote.

Benedict referred repeatedly to the "Catholic Church in China" without distinguishing between the divisions — an indication of his aim to see the two united and in communion with Rome.

"He underlines the unity of the church, which is fundamental because with this affirmation reconciliation becomes possible," said the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, director of AsiaNews, a missionary news agency close to the Vatican.

The Vatican's release of the 55-page letter showed it was eager for it to be widely read: It translated the letter into five languages — including Mandarin in both traditional and simplified characters. It issued two accompanying documents highlighting key points as well as a prepared statement by the Vatican spokesman. It posted the letter in Chinese on the Vatican home page.

The Vatican said it was prepared "at any time" to move its diplomatic representation from Taiwan — which split from China in 1949 — to Beijing, as soon as an agreement with the government was reached.
Benedict stressed that he alone must appoint bishops and said his right to do so was an example of religious freedom that he said was lacking in China. But he said he trusted that an agreement on nominations could be reached.

The Vatican would like to have a formula similar to the one it has with Vietnam, another communist country, where the Vatican proposes a few names and the government selects one.

Vatican analysts have said a key indication of China's reaction to the letter will be how the next bishop of Beijing is selected following the death in April of Bishop Fu Tieshan, the hard-line chairman of the Patriotic Association.

One more recent commentary:

ROME: In an extraordinary open letter directed to Chinese Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI has acknowledged the suffering experienced by Catholics under Communist rule but concluded that it was time to forgive past wrongs and for the underground and state-sponsored Catholic churches in China to reconcile.

Hoping for a renewal of relations between China and the Vatican, which were suspended in the 1950s, Benedict reassured the Chinese government that the Vatican offered no political challenge to its authority, while urging the state-sponsored Catholic church to acknowledge the Vatican's control on religious matters.
"The misunderstanding and incomprehension weighs heavily, serving neither the Chinese authorities nor the Catholic Church in China," said the letter, which was released Saturday.

It was the pope's long-awaited first official and explicit statement on China's estimated 12 million Catholics, the majority of whom worship in underground churches to avoid having to register with the government and swear loyalty to it.

Months in preparation, the 28-page letter was issued in multiple languages, including Chinese, along with an unusual "Explanatory Note" to highlight main points.

The pope praised China for "the splendor of its ancient civilization" and noted with approval that it had greater religious freedoms and decisive movement toward socioeconomic progress. He underlined that the Roman Catholic Church "does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the State."
Gerolamo Fazzini, editor of Mondo e Missione, a magazine for the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, said: "This is a step forward because it states the Vatican position clearly and holds out a hand to civil authorities. It says the church and authorities can be allied in dialogue - that you can be good Chinese citizens and Catholics at the same time."

But the pope's message to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government body that oversees China's state churches, was that no Catholic church should operate independently of the Vatican, and he said Catholics should seek to worship with priests who accepted the guidance of Rome.

Benedict revoked instructions issued by his predecessor, John Paul II, in 1988. Those gave priests and bishops in China "emergency powers" that allowed them to operate without communication with the Vatican and to modify Catholic practices for their own protection, for example, saying a condensed Mass, according to Bernardo Cervellera, editor of Asia News, a Catholic missionary news service based in Rome.
The letter included a reaffirmation of the Vatican's right to appoint bishops, a point of deep contention between Rome and the Chinese Patriotic Church. In 2006, the Chinese church angered the Vatican by appointing three new bishops without consultation.

The Chinese government offered no immediate reaction, and the Patriotic Church Association had been meeting in the past few days, probably to discuss the contents of the letter, Fazzini said.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop of Hong Kong and a passionate advocate for the underground church on the mainland, issued a statement Saturday night.

"The voice of our bishops and priests in China is often prevented from reaching our leaders; now that the letter of the pope is in the hands of our leaders, our bishops and priests can thus refer to it directly as a common starting point for dialogue," it said.

Beginning in the 1950s, China expelled missionaries, closed churches, confiscated church property and imprisoned almost all clerics. Persecution continued until the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, beginning in the late 1970s, allowed worship to resume slowly - although within limits set by the government. Underground churches held fast in their loyalty to the pope, but their secret meetings have been violently dispersed by the police, and practitioners have been arrested.

Still, over the last 10 years, the practices of the official state churches and underground churches have converged to some extent, depending in part upon the tolerance of the local authorities. It is not unusual to find official "Patriotic" churches where the pope is openly revered, and that hang pictures of him near the altar. An increasing number also get money from Catholic charities abroad to pay for church-building, schools and hospitals.

"The first and by far most important aspect is that for the pope, the church in China is one - definitely one," Cervellera, of Asia News, said of the letter. "He stresses it is time to consider the church one church. To reconcile the bishops from the two churches and the faithful as well."

Others remained skeptical that the overture would improve relations between the Vatican and the Chinese.
"I doubt that this will help overcome the impasse with the Chinese authorities, because the letter says that it's up to China to recognize that the church should operate in China as it does in 173 countries, even places like Cuba, which is Communist, or Japan, which has strong nationalism - in all of which the pope nominates bishops," said a priest from Hong Kong, who asked not to be identified.

He and others noted that the reaction to the papal letter could be complex among Catholics in China, and some could even feel betrayed by the pope's message.

"I think that this will have strong repercussions, within the church," Fazzini, the magazine editor, said. "Imagine a priest who spent 30 years in jail and now you are told that you have to dialogue with people that have been nominated by the authorities. Asking them to reread history with charitable eyes, that won't be easy."

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