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5/23/2009 11:03 PM
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Pope approves Compendium of his Letter
to the Catholics of China

by Fr. Bernardo Cervellera

Vatican City, May 22 (AsiaNews) – Two years on since the publication of his Letter to the Catholics of China, Benedict XVI has approved a “Compendium” of the document that will be available as of tomorrow on the Vatican website in Chinese and English.

Tomorrow is also the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China, called for by the Pope in the concluding part of his 2007 Letter.

According to a statement released by the Holy See press office, the Compendium “reproduces the basic elements” of the original Letter, but in the 'catechetical literary genre of questions and answers'.

The Compendium was forcefully called for by Cardinal Joseph Zen, former Archbishop of Hong Kong, and great defender of religious freedom in China.

It “faithfully reproduces, both in structure and language, the content of the original Letter, quoting extended passages from it. With the addition of some footnotes and two short Appendices, the “Compendium” is presented as an authoritative tool facilitating a deeper understanding of His Holiness’s thought on some particularly delicate points”.

One of those “delicate points” is the way in which to confront the Patriotic Association – the organism that controls the official church – whose aims are defined by the Pope as “irreconcilable with Catholic Doctrine”.

Many Catholics, both in China and abroad, believe that, in the aftermath of the Letter, a relationship of sorts with the PA is necessary as the “lesser of two evils” and have declared the era of the underground Church over, given its total refusal to collaborate with the PA.

Following the publication of the Letter, some underground bishops have sought to have themselves recognised by the government, refusing to become members of the PA. But the government has rejected their appeals and they remain illegal bishops and therefore punishable with prison.

The Pope’s Letter was not easily accessible in China: the PA banned its publication and websites that carried it were forced to remove it from their pages. Some priests who had distributed it were arrested. The full text of the Letter available on the Holy See’s new website in Chinese cannot be accessed from China.

Today’s statement however confirms that Benedict XVI’s document met with a “highly favourable reception given to it by the Chinese Catholics who had access to it.”.

One of the fruits of this Letter is greater collaboration between official and underground Catholics. Many underground bishops have begun to collaborate in pastoral initiatives with official bishops, but because of this, they have met with persecution.

Over the past few months bishops recognised by the government have been called to submit themselves to political sessions on the value that the Chinese Communist Party places on religious policies, that have lasted for weeks and even months.

Underground bishops, for the most part, remain under constant house arrest. Moreover, three underground bishops have completely disappeared in police custody. They are: Msgr. James Su Zhimin (diocese of Baoding, Hebei), 75, arrested and whereabouts unknown since 1996; Msgr. Cosma Shi Enxiang (diocese of Yixian, Hebei), 86, arrested and whereabouts unknown since April 13 2001; Msgr. Julius Jia Zhiguo, arrested once again on March 30th last as he prepared to work together with the official bishop of Shijiazhuang, Msgr. Jang Taoran.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/23/2009 11:04 PM]
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