July 1, 2007 at 12:22 am #22726
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Benedict on Saturday called on China to lift restrictions on religious freedom that “suffocate” the Church and sow divisions among Catholics, in his most significant address on China to date.
But the Pope also called for greater dialogue with the officially atheist state, writing in a 55-page open letter that he sought to restore full diplomatic ties with Beijing that were severed two years after the 1949 Communist takeover.
The Pope, writing to China’s bishops, priests and faithful, lamented that millions of Catholics in China were still forced to worship under a state-controlled church that refuses to recognise his authority.
Millions of others worship in “underground” churches loyal to the Pope, and the Pontiff said the divisions had weakened the Church in China.
“It is true that in recent years the Church has enjoyed greater religious freedom than in the past,” the Pope said.
“Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that grave limitations remain that touch the heart of the faith and that, to a certain degree, suffocate pastoral activity.”
China’s foreign ministry responded with a short statement saying it was willing to continue “frank, constructive dialogue with the Vatican.”
But Beijing also reiterated the Vatican must not interfere in China’s internal affairs by “using religion as a pretext.”
Tensions have repeatedly flared over the appointment of bishops. China refuses to allow the Vatican to appoint them, saying this would amount to meddling in domestic matters.
The Pope said on Saturday his ability to appoint bishops is a fundamental part of the ability to fully “exercise … the right of religious freedom.”
He said all but “a very small number” of the bishops in China had sought the Pope’s blessing. Many, he said, had secretly received a “clandestine consecration.”
TAIWAN AND EVANGELISATION
China foreign ministry also called on the Vatican to sever ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.
“We hope that the Vatican will show real initiatives and it must not again lay down fresh obstacles,” ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement.
The Pope did not address Taiwan. The Vatican said in an accompanying note it was ready to transfer its embassy from Taiwan to China “at any time” in the event of a deal with Beijing, but it did not offer to sever ties.
The Vatican said previously it wants to keep some kind of relations with Taipei even if it reopens its embassy in Beijing.
Catholics in China met news of the letter with high hopes, even though the document had yet to widely circulate.
“We’ll be praying that it helps to foster reconciliation in the Chinese church. That’s what we need right now,” said Father John Baptist Zhang Shijiang, a leader of Jinde Charities in north China’s Hebei province, a major Catholic organisation.
For the Vatican, China is a country of immense potential.
The Vatican estimated there are only between 8 million and 12 million Catholics in China, but the Pope expressed hope that it would prove fertile ground for evangelisation.
“During the first Christian millennium the Cross was planted in Europe and during the second in the American continent and in Africa,” the German-born Pope wrote.
“During the third millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in the vast and vibrant Asian continent.”
But until relations improved, the Pontiff acknowledged the challenges facing the “nascent” Church in China.
He urged his followers in China, when possible, to seek out clergy who were in communion with the Pope. But, if that were not viable, the Pope said they should attend Church regardless.July 2, 2007 at 12:51 am #22727July 8, 2007 at 12:18 pm #22729
… this new pope knows where the fresh blood has to come from. Fascinating. NNJuly 8, 2007 at 12:46 pm #22731
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