Thursday, June 28, 2007

Questions circulate as China open church bishops called to meet

Bishops of the "open" Church in China have been called to a two-day meeting in Beijing.

Some bishops whom UCA News contacted said they believe the June 28-29 meeting is related to an expected letter of Pope Benedict XVI to Catholics in mainland China, others said they do not know why the meeting was called.

The pope promised to write such a pastoral letter after a summit took place Jan. 19-20 at the Vatican to discuss the Catholic Church situation in China.

The letter, which Pope Benedict reportedly signed on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, is generally expected to be released soon.

Anthony Liu Bainian, a Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) vice chairman, confirmed to UCA News on June 27 that the bishops have been invited to a June 28-29 meeting to discuss a plan for the celebration of the CCPA's golden jubilee. At the same time, he denied that the meeting has any connection with the papal letter. "We don't know its content, so how can we discuss it?" Liu said.

The first CCPA meeting opened in Beijing on July 15, 1957. After 18 days, the participants formally established the CCPA, approved its statutes and agreed Archbishop Ignatius Pi Shushi of Shenyang would be the first chairman.

Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyi, Shandong province, who reached Beijing June 27, told UCA News the meeting organized by the CCPA and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) will mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Bishop Joseph Zong Huaide, former head of CCPA and BCCCC. He died on June 27, 1997.

Bishop Fang, a BCCCC vice president, said that he knows of no other agenda for the meeting and that about seven to eight bishops have already arrived.

A church source in Beijing told UCA News that a few bishops and a dozen priests from Shandong and other provinces attended the commemoration held June 27 morning for Shandong-born Bishop Zong.

The church source believed that the June 28-29 meeting might also discuss the pope's pastoral letter, but the agenda remains unknown. Basically all bishops must attend, the source pointed out, and most were informed by phone, but some were told about the meeting by local religious affairs officials.

A bishop in northern China told UCA News that local religious affairs officials had informed him about the meeting on June 25 and he was just then on his way to Beijing. He also said he was told the meeting will be about "how to receive the papal letter."

Another bishop in central China who asked not to be named told UCA News that he and other bishops in his province heard about "a meeting in Beijing June 28-29," but not about its agenda. He said he is still pondering whether or not he will attend.

A bishop in southern China also about to go to the airport told UCA News on June 27 that he does not know the purpose of the meeting, but he and a fellow bishop guess it is somehow related to the forthcoming papal letter.

That same day, Bishop John Liu Jingshan of Ningxia told UCA News he was told about the meeting but cannot go due to a leg problem. He added that his guess is the meeting is related to the forthcoming papal letter.

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