Vatican offers olive branch to China

 The Vatican is appealing to Chinese leaders to engage in talks to ease tension and achieve diplomatic relations and a normal life for the Roman Catholic Church there. The Rome meeting, chaired by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, was attended by leading Chinese Catholics, including Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong. Currently China does not allow Catholics to recognise papal authority. There is a 'state-approved' Catholic church, but those loyal to the Pope must often practice their faith in secret and risk imprisonment. A Vatican statement, issued on Saturday after a two-day meeting on China, paid tribute to Chinese Catholics who had "without yielding to compromise... kept their loyalty to the Seat of St Peter, at times even at the price of great suffering". "The many contributions of the participants expressed the will to proceed in a respectful and constructive dialogue with the (Chinese) authorities to overcome the misunderstandings of the past," the statement said. "At this moment I cannot comment on this special meeting because we have only seen the news reports," the vice-chairman of the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Liu Bainian, said. "We still don't know the specifics of the meeting." Mr Liu said his association - the state-run administrator of China's state recognised Catholic church - still hoped that formal ties between the Vatican and Beijing could be established "as soon as possible". Since his election in April 2005, Pope Benedict has made normalising relations with China a priority of his papacy. The meeting said that "almost all" bishops and priests in China were loyal to the Pope, in contrast to the official position of their Government. It said China's Catholic community was growing and assured Beijing, which in the past has accused the Vatican of interfering in internal affairs, that the church wanted to contribute to the wellbeing of all Chinese people. The meeting called for "a normalisation of relations at the various levels, with the aim to allow peaceful and fruitful life in the faith of the church and to work together for the good of the Chinese people and peace in the world". Beijing and the Vatican severed ties after the Communists came to power in 1949, and the dispute over who appoints bishops has impeded detente. The Holy See recognises Beijing's diplomatic rival Taiwan. Officially atheist, China has refused to allow the Vatican to appoint bishops or let Catholics publicly recognise the Pope's authority. In recent years, Beijing and the Holy See - warily exploring normalisation - came to an understanding that usually allows prospective bishops to seek Vatican approval before taking up posts in the church. But relations hit a new low last year when the state-backed church consecrated new bishops without papal approval. Source: VIS/ICN

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