"We all always pray for the Pope"
Further signals of communication between Peking and Rome
After Pope Benedict XVI had published his letter to the Chinese Catholics (see CiG No. 28, P. 230) it came to some further signals that were interpreted as signs of communication between Rome and Peking. It is interesting that the Vice-President of the government-controlled "Patriotic Association" of the Catholics, Anthony Liu Bainian, a layman, called the letter a "large step forward". For the so-called official church, which rejects the overall supervision by the Pope, Liu even spoke of hope that soon a visit of Benedict XVI to Peking was possible: "We always pray for him. I hope with all my strength to see the Pope some day here in Peking. I hope that he says mass for us Chinese."
Such comments make the public take notice for that reason, because Liu in the past had rather stood out by harsher words. The functionary praised the Vatican's new attitude toward China: The Pope refrained in his letter from attacks against socialism and also not accused the "Patriotic Association" of splitting the church. "It is the first time that the Chinese on the part of the Pope feel that it is possible to be Catholic and to love one's country." Basically many Catholics even now steadfastly followed the Pope. Only in political and economic questions one insisted on independence.
Here boundaries become apparent that are likewise mentioned by Anthony Liu Bainian. Peking would not tolerate "that is repeated what the church has done in Poland". The Chinese leadership regards Pope John Paul II as symbol for the fight against Communism and for its collapse. That is why a visit of the Polish Pope was inconceivable in China. With Benedict XVI, who always pointedly demands that the church is to keep out of politics and also rejects any kind of political theology, from the CPC's viewpoint matters probably look rather more favourably.
Beside the regime-near and state registered church there are Catholics of the community that is usually in a shortened form called "Underground Church", which was and is exposed to particularly strong repressions. That has led to some discords also within the church. That is why in his letter Pope Benedict XVI had called both groups - the official and the non-official Catholic Church in China - to a cleansing of conscience, so that reconciliation could grow.
After the letter was published from the circles of the non-official church apart from agreement also some disappointment was to be heard. The Pope unfortunately for diplomatic reasons had neglected to mention the arrested bishops, priests and laymen. Up to the copy deadline of this CiG edition China's leadership had not yet answered the letter from Rome and had the spread of the text prevented in the Internet. The China correspondent Petra Kolonko sees (in "Stimmen der Zeit") certain signs that in the last ten years the Chinese society had become more pluralist and world-open. The Communist party had withdrawn from the direct control in many areas of the social life. "But all freedom ends at the party's claim to supremacy."
The Vatican reacted with positive signals to Joseph Li Shan's election as bishop of Peking, which at the same time is connected with the presidency of the "Patriotic Association". From the 93 clerics, members of orders and laymen entitled to vote 74 voted for the diocesan priest. Of the 51 clerics of the diocese 48 voted for Li; three priests did not participate in the vote - two study abroad, the third was prevented for age and health reasons. It is said that no government representative was present at the nomination. Well informed circles know however of an intensive "commitment" of the authorities for the clergyman. Since the China Letter this is the first and so far by the Vatican not yet approved "autonomous" destination of a priest as bishop candidate, what runs counter to the Pope's wish not to appoint bishops without his approval. But it could be that for Li the Vatican's subsequent approval of the bishop ordination is still asked for. Anthony Liu Bainian said: Until Li's possible installation up to three months could pass due to the examination to be dealt with by the responsible bishops and committees. And then the decision whether the Pope's approval is to be asked is with the Peking diocese. Thus one probably wants to win time and for the time being to avoid an affront. The Papal Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone benevolently spoke of a "good choice".
The 43-year-old Joseph Li Shan is regarded as moderate and is a popular pastor. He is thought capable of taking the role of a mediator. Meanwhile Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong has expressed the hope that the Vatican publishes the names of the Chinese bishops who are in community with the Pope. This could within the church contribute to reconciliation and easing of tension. In the last years with bishop elections in the People's Republic obviously a quiet agreement had got going that the Vatican tacitly recognizes ordinations in the official church. Besides, there were quite a few bishops among them who had later become reconciled with the Pope.