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Saturday, October 22, 2016
Explanatory note on Pope's letter to Chinese Catholics
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 To accompany Saturday's publication of the "Letter to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's Republic of China," the Holy See Press Office issued the following explanatory note concerning the Church in China over the last 50 years. "The Catholic community in China has lived the past 50 years in an intense way," reads the English-language note, "undertaking a difficult and painful journey, which not only has deeply marked it but has also caused it to take on particular characteristics which continue to mark it today. "The Catholic community suffered an initial persecution in the 1950s, which witnessed the expulsion of foreign bishops and missionaries, the imprisonment of almost all Chinese clerics and the leaders of the various lay movements, the closing of churches and the isolation of the faithful. Then, at the end of the 1950s, various state bodies were established, such as the Office for Religious Affairs and the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, with the aim of directing and 'controlling' all religious activity. In 1958 the first two Episcopal ordinations without papal mandate took place, initiating a long series of actions which deeply damaged ecclesial communion. "In the decade 1966-1976, the Cultural Revolution, which took place throughout the country, violently affected the Catholic community, striking even those bishops, priests and lay faithful who had shown themselves more amenable to the new orientations imposed by government authorities. "In the 1980s, with the gestures of openness promoted by Deng Xiaoping, there began a period of religious tolerance with some possibility of movement and dialogue, which led to the reopening of churches, seminaries and religious houses, and to a certain revival of community life. The information coming from communities of the Catholic Church in China confirmed that the blood of the martyrs had once again been the seed of new Christians: the faith had remained alive in the communities; the majority of Catholics had given fervent witness of fidelity to Christ and the Church; families had become the key to the transmission of the faith to their members. The new climate, however, provoked different reactions within the Catholic community." "Attentively analyzing the situation of the Church in China, Benedict XVI is aware of the fact that the community is suffering internally from a situation of conflict in which both faithful and pastors are involved. He emphasizes, however, that this painful situation was not brought about by different doctrinal positions but is the result of the 'the significant part played by entities that have been imposed as the principal determinants of the life of the Catholic community.' These are entities, whose declared purposes - in particular, the aim of implementing the principles of independence, self-government and self-management of the Church - are not reconcilable with Catholic doctrine. This interference has given rise to seriously troubling situations. What is more, Bishops and priests have been subjected to considerable surveillance and coercion in the exercise of their pastoral office. "In the 1990s, from many quarters and with increasing frequency, bishops and priests turned to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Secretariat of State in order to obtain from the Holy See precise instructions as to how they should conduct themselves with regard to some problems of ecclesial life in China. Many asked what attitude should be adopted towards the government and towards state agencies in charge of Church life. Other queries concerned strictly sacramental problems, such as the possibility of concelebrating with bishops who had been ordained without papal mandate or of receiving the sacraments from priests ordained by these bishops. Finally, the legitimizing of numerous bishops who had been illicitly consecrated confused some sectors of the Catholic community." "During these years, Pope John Paul II on several occasions addressed messages and appeals to the Church in China, calling all Catholics to unity and reconciliation. The interventions of the Holy Father were well received, creating a desire for unity, but sadly the tensions with the authorities and within the Catholic community did not diminish." "The various problems which seem to have most seriously affected the life of the Church in China in recent years were amply and carefully analyzed by a special select commission made up of experts on China and members of the Roman Curia who follow the situation of that community. "When Pope Benedict XVI decided to call a meeting from January 19 to 20 during which various ecclesiastics, including some from China, took part, the aforementioned commission worked to produce a document aimed at ensuring broad discussion on the various points, gathering practical recommendations made by the participants and proposing some possible theological and pastoral guidelines for the Catholic community in China. His Holiness, who graciously took part in the final session of the meeting, decided, among other things, to address a Letter to the bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful." Source: VIS
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