Church leaders of the "underground" and "open" Catholic communities in China have welcomed a Vatican statement concerning a special meeting on the Church in China and its overtures toward reconciliation.
Rome issued a statement on Saturday after a two-day meeting on China. The communist country severed diplomatic relations with the Holy See after taking power in 1949. The Vatican recently called for "respectful and constructive dialogue" to normalize ties.
The statement acknowledged that "almost all the bishops and priests are in communion with the Supreme Pontiff."
About half of China's 10 million or more Catholics belong to an "underground" church directly loyal to the Vatican despite the atheist government's opposition and the regular detention of priests and bishops. The remainder worship in the state-sanctioned church, which respects the Pope's spiritual authority but rejects his administrative power.
Hopes for reconciliation between China and the Vatican went through a tough period last year when the state-sanctioned church consecrated several new bishops without papal approval. The Vatican denounced the consecrations as a serious act that subverted the Church's fundamental principles.
Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, told UCA News on Jan. 22 that the Vatican’s desire to normalize its relations with China is "beneficial and constructive to the improvement of Sino-Vatican relations."
According to UCAN, many Catholics there believe the advancement in reconciliation is proof that “the Holy Spirit has been working." The openness and willingness of Church officials at various levels to frankly and actively engage in discussion have boosted their spirits, they said.
Besides intensified dialogue, they added, the priority of both parties should be to boost friendship and trust, and to create a smooth and effective channel for diplomatic negotiation.
Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Mindong in southeastern China, told UCA News on Jan. 22 that the statement shows the Holy See fully recognizes the Chinese Church's past experiences and present endeavors, and that both "open" and "underground" Catholics are unalterably loyal to the pope's primacy. "The Holy See can rest assured about the faithfulness of the China Church," he stated.
In Hong Kong, Church-in-China observer Kwun Ping-hung told UCA News Jan. 21 the Vatican statement shows that the conditions for reconciliation are mature and that the Vatican has greater confidence in negotiations.