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from issue no. 06/07 - 2007

The confusion is over

by Petrus Feng Xinmao

Bishop Petrus Feng Xinmao administering a baptism

Bishop Petrus Feng Xinmao administering a baptism

We are all very happy to have read the Letter of his Holiness Benedict XVI to the Chinese Catholics. From his look at the recent history of the Chinese Catholic community one can see how we are beloved by the Pope and by all the universal Church. And this comforts us.
In China the Letter is circulating freely. In my diocese we have downloaded it from the internet, photocopied and distributed it to all the priests and religious communities, that have begun to study it together. We read it together also during the last monthly meeting that I had with the priests of the diocese. And every priest has made hundreds of photocopies to distribute in the parish. I read it and comment on it in the sermons that I give in the parishes, during pastoral visits.
Naturally the contents touch on various aspects. The most important part is that with directives for the Christian life in China. For long years there has been confusion on the attitude to take towards the State and before the choices of the so-called underground community. In the past special faculties were granted to the Chinese Church, in particular to the underground communities. Now the new Letter has revoked them. Now we must follow this new document, that is of great help to the Chinese Church.
The papal letter explains well that clandestinity is not the ordinary condition of the Christian community. The normal thing is that Christian communities be recognized by the State and allowed to confess and practice their faith freely.
Some underground Christians are confused. They think that if you are recognized or registered with the State organisms you are not in communion with the Pope. The Pope’s letter has really clarified this point. Christians follow the laws. If the law of the State asks of Christians some form of civic registration, we register, and this is not against the faith or doctrine. The Pope has told those Christians still a little confused that they can frequent the masses celebrated in the “open” churches. We will see if they are obedient to the Pope in words or deeds.
In my diocese, for example, the so-called clandestines are very few. And in truth there is no longer any reason to choose the “underground” way to live one’s faith. They could come to mass untroubled in the open churches: there are parish priests whom I have nominated; and I, in my turn, was chosen as bishop by the Pope. They know it. Some underground leaders also attended my priestly ordination. But they have grown accustomed for many years to act so, and perhaps it doesn’t suit them to change habits.
I don’t know if the government will be as happy with the Letter as we are. There are some questions touched on by the Letter, such as the role of the Patriotic Association, on which the government’s point of view is different from that expressed by the Pope. According to him, it is the bishops who must guide the Church.
Perhaps it is possible to find a new function for the Patriotic Association. And it is in any case necessary to keep in mind that already now the role and influence exerted by the Patriotic Association changes from diocese to diocese. In our diocese there is only one Christian who receives a salary as local representative of the Patriotic Association. But one could not say that he appears intrusive in the affairs of the Church. When The Patriotic Association organizes meetings at state or regional level at times he does not even go. Every so often he gives me a telephone call. He gives bits of advice. And it all ends there.

Petrus Feng Xinmao
Petrus Feng Xinmao is the coadjutant bishop of Hengshui, in the province of Hebei. He was the first of the squad of new 40 year-old bishops recognized by the government and ordained only after their papal nomination had entered the public domain. On 6 January 2004, the day of his episcopal ordination, the liturgy began in the small church of the town, where the oldest priest of the diocese also read out the documents attesting to the papal nomination of the new bishop. Then, so as not to disappoint the faithful who had not been able to find room in the church, clergy and faithful crossed the square, and the liturgy of consecration continued in the great hall of the local House of the People.

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