Arrest of Catholic Bishop in China, an obstacle to dialogue

Vatican City, April 04, 2009 - The recent arrest of a Chinese bishop and other instances of religious persecution in China are obstacles to dialogue, said the Vatican.

The arrest of 74-year-old Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding was "unfortunately not an isolated case: Other clergy are also deprived of their freedom or are subjected to undue pressure and restrictions in their pastoral activity," said the Vatican in a statement released April 2.

In the statement released after a meeting in Rome of the Vatican's Commission for the Catholic Church in China, the Vatican expressed its "deep sorrow upon hearing the news of the recent arrest" of Bishop Jia.

"Situations of this type create obstacles to an atmosphere of dialogue with the competent authorities," it said, noting Pope Benedict XVI's desire for dialogue which he expressed in his June 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics.

Bishop Jia, who has not registered with the government, was taken by five police officers from his residence in Hebei province March 30, the same day the Vatican commission on China began its meeting. Pope Benedict established the commission in 2007 to study issues related to the Catholic Church in China.

Several sources told the Asian church news agency UCA News they believe the action is related to a recent move toward reconciliation between the diocese's two Catholic communities: those registered with the government and those not registered.

During the Rome meeting, the commission's members talked about many of the complex problems the church in China faces -- problems "that stem not just from difficulties inside the church, but also from the uneasy relations with civil authorities," said the Vatican statement.

A major topic of discussion during the meeting was the formation of seminarians, consecrated persons and the permanent formation of priests, it said.

In association with bishops of the church in China, the commission "will try to promote an adequate human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation of clergy and consecrated people," it said.

It said religious men and women "have the important task of living as faithful disciples of Christ and as members of the church, and to contribute to the good of their country as exemplary citizens."

The Vatican statement said the pope told commission members April 1 that it was important to help Catholics in China "let others know the beauty and reasonableness of the Christian faith and to present it as the proposal offering the best answers from an intellectual and existential point of view."

The commission is made up of Vatican and Chinese church officials.

Coadjutor Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, one of the commission's members, told Catholic News Service April 2 that the pope spent about 30 minutes listening to commission's last day of deliberations.

The pope then made brief comments telling the commission he knew that "we're all trying our best" to address the problems Catholics in China are facing and that they were "working for the good of the church in China," said Bishop Tong.

He said that in light of the church's designated year of the priest, which will run from June 19 to June 19, 2010, the Vatican might issue a special letter addressed to priests in mainland China.

The bishop said commission members also discussed worries that Chinese bishops approved by the Vatican may be forced to attend the government's upcoming National Congress of Catholic Representatives.

According to UCA News, Vatican-approved bishops might be forced to take part in the elections for chairpersons of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the government-sanctioned Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China, which are expected to take place during the national assembly. The patriotic association was set up to uphold the principle of an "independent, autonomous and self-managed" church in China.

The Rome-based agency AsiaNews said March 30 that Chinese government authorities are reportedly not pleased with the prospect of the two church communities working together as they see the unregistered church being run by a "foreign power," the pope.

The Vatican has said the church is not involved with meddling in the country's internal affairs and it has expressed a willingness to move its nunciature from Taiwan to Beijing, as soon as diplomatic relations are established with China.

-CNS

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