After an extended period of disagreement and diplomatic conflict, the Pope has extended an olive branch to the Catholics in China, and indirectly to the governing authorities, via a meeting and pastoral letter to follow.
Benedict XVI has expressed a ‚Äúdesire to deepen his knowledge of the situation of the Catholic Church in China‚Äù, according to the Vatican Information Service (VIS). The pontiff called a special meeting which took place in the Vatican Apostolic Palace on 19-20 January 2007.
The meeting was convened by Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, and attended by representatives of the Chinese episcopate (Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan) and by a number of observers who, for the Holy See, follow the Chinese question most closely.
The ‚Äúwide-ranging and intricate debate was characterized by a frank and fraternal cordiality‚Äù, says VIS.
Its report continues: "In the light of the troubled history of the Church in China and of the principal events of recent years, consideration was given to the most serious and urgent ecclesial problems. Problems which call for adequate solutions based on the fundamental principles of the Church's divine constitution and religious freedom‚Ä¶ It was noted with particular joy that today almost all of the bishops and priests are in communion with the Supreme Pontiff.‚Äù
The communiqu?© from the meeting also spoke of ‚Äúa surprising numerical growth of the ecclesial community which, in China as elsewhere, is called to bear witness to Christ‚Äù.
Both the official, Chinese government-recognized Catholic Patriotic Association, which can only recognize Benedict as a ‚Äòspiritual leader‚Äô, and unregistered Catholic Churches, which are unwavering in their loyalty to the governorship of the Pope, have seen growth in numbers in recent years.
The Chinese authorities have been unwilling to allow the Vatican to exercise authority of the domestic Church, seeing it as a foreign power. Meanwhile the CPA has overseen the ordination of bishops who are not recognized by the Holy See, in isolation of its constitution.
Another issue of dispute concerns religious freedom, and the sometimes ferocious crackdowns which Religious Affairs Bureaus (RABs) in the provinces have exercised towards dissenting congregations and priests.
VIS reported on the dialogue: "From the multiplicity of the participants' contributions, what emerged was the will to continue along the path of respectful and constructing dialogue with the governing authorities, in order to overcome the misunderstandings of the past. The hope was also expressed that a normalization of relations at all levels could be achieved so as to facilitate a peaceful and fruitful life of faith in the Church, and to work together for the good of the Chinese people and for peace in the world.‚Äù
A letter from the Pope will follow.