Great Jubilee News
Could Bring
Unification of
 Chinese
 Catholics:
Pope Writes Chinese Catholics' Patriotic Association Controlled by Party

VATICAN CITY, 10 DEC 1999 (ZENIT)  John Paul I I has made an unprecedented call for unity for the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 in a letter to Chinese Catholics belonging to the Patriotic Association—a national church controlled by the Communist Party, which does not accept papal authority.

The Pope's announcement caught many people by surprise: "I rejoiced when I learned that you intend your most precious gift on the occasion of the Great Jubilee to be unity among yourselves and unity with the Successor of Peter," he began.

Archbishop Riberi, the Vatican's Inter-Nuncio in China was expelled from the country in 1951, at a time of repression of Christians by the Communist Party. Six years later, the Chinese Catholics' Patriotic Association was established in Shanghai, as an organism of the Communist Party to oppose papal primacy, considered a foreign authority and, therefore, illegitimate. In 1958 the first consecration of two "official" bishops was effected.

At present, there are some 10 million Catholics in China. Just over half are faithful to Rome, in spite of the persecution campaign unleashed by the regime to oblige them to form part of the Patriotic Association. There are 70 "official" bishops, and 60 who belong to the Underground Church, openly faithful to Rome. However, many of the "official" bishops adhere to the Patriotic Association because otherwise they would be unable to act. In private, they admit their adherence to the Pope. In fact, during Mass, all bishops, even those working with permission from the Communist Party, pray for John Paul II. There are about 1,000 "official" priests, and about the same number of "Un-official" priests. Both the Church that is faithful to Rome, as well as the Patriotic Association, each have about 2000 nuns. There are 14 official seminaries and 10 non-official.

Negotiations are underway at present between the Vatican and Beijing, to try to reestablish diplomatic relations, which were interrupted at the time of Archbishop Riberi. However, as a condition, Rome requires the dissolution of the Patriotic Association. This is, perhaps, the most difficult issue to resolve, as the Communist Party is opposed to the idea. Many "official" Catholics, however, have declared they are totally amenable. According to the international agency "Fides," even hardline bishops of the official Church in China are supporting the Jubilee celebrations. Meeting in a Synod last October, they made concrete proposals for the celebration of the year 2000. A few days ago, Bishop Fu Tieshan of Beijing, who is close to the Party, pointed out the important churches of the city as the Jubilee places where pilgrims will be able to gain the indulgence. The official Jubilee symbol can been seen in all Catholic Churches. What is most interesting, "Fides" explained, is that some Chinese Catholics are planning to travel to Rome for the Jubilee. "To date, these hopeful pilgrims have not received an answer from the government," the agency clarified.

The Natang Cathedral in Beijing has opened an Internet site for the Jubilee (http://www.sapientia.netfirms.com/) in which there is information on the Church, the Jubilee, Christian art, and Catholic books that can be purchased by post. In his letter, John Paul II explains that this change in attitude of Catholics of the Patriotic Association does not in any way mean giving up their pride "as good Chinese and authentic Christians; you love your country and you love the Church, both local and universal."

The Pope hopes that the Jubilee will be an opportunity to remember the Church's martyrs. "My heart overflows with wonder and gratitude to God for the generous witness given by a host of bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay people. And it seems that the time of trial, in some places, has not yet come to an end!"

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