Freed Chinese bishop joins state-approved Church

 A Chinese Catholic bishop from the underground Church, who was recently released after more than ten years house arrest has joined the state- approved 'Open Church'. Bishop Francis An Shuxin says he wished to work for the reconciliation of China's underground Catholic Church and the government-sanctioned 'Open Churches.' Bishop Shuxin of Baoding diocese in Hebei, about 145 kilometres southwest of Beijing, has gained the government's recognition of his position as a bishop and is permitted to do pastoral work openly under the government's management. However, even though he is now part of the government-approved Church, he said he has not joined the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and has not received an official identity card. The CCPA, which serves as a bridge between the Communist government and the Open Church, upholds the principles of "independence, autonomy and self-management" for the Church in China. Bishop An said that he decided to "come out" and join the Open Church "for communion and development" of both Church communities. The Holy See also supports such moves toward reconciliation, he continued. Bishop An was detained in March 1996 during crackdowns on the underground Catholic community of Baoding and placed under house arrest. "My freedom was restricted but I was well taken care of," he said. The prelate was released a few days after he concelebrated a Mass with government-sanctioned clerics on 20 August. The local government had demanded that as a sign of his membership in the Open Church, he should concelebrate the Sunday Mass with government-recognised Bishop Su Changshan of Baoding and seven Open Church priests in the presence of a 700-strong congregation. "If both sides don't achieve reconciliation in the Sacraments, our talk about reconciliation is just empty words," Bishop An said. Leaders of Baoding's Open Church community said they welcomed Bishop An joining them, but that full reconciliation is still a distant dream. Baoding has been a stronghold of the underground Church, which has about 80 priests, 100 nuns and about 100,000 Catholics. The Open Church community in Baoding has one bishop, 15 priests, about ten nuns and 10,000 church attenders. Bishop An said he has placed a priority on trying to unite the underground community, which is split over the issue of him joining the Open Church.

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