The vice-chairman of the Chinese state-approved Catholic Association has said that in light of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent letter to Catholics in China, he would like him to visit and celebrate Mass. For the time being, the Holy Father has chosen not to comment because of the complexity of the issue.
Vice chairman Liu Bainian’s comments came in an interview with the Italian daily La Repubblica about the Pope’s recent letter to the Church in China. He said that he wanted to use the interview as an opportunity to send the Pope his organization’s prayers and an invitation to visit.
"[We want to] Let him know that we pray for him always and may the Lord give us the grace to welcome him here among us."
"I strongly hope to be able to see the pope one day here in Beijing to celebrate Mass for us Chinese," Liu was quoted as saying.
Pope Benedict, who was reached while leaving a meeting with local clergy in Northern Italy replied, "I can't speak at this time… It's a bit complicated," according to ANSA news agency.
The chairman also said that the new letter is a "big positive difference" compared with the Vatican's previous efforts at reconciliation.
"Every opposition to socialism disappeared. We weren't accused of schism. It marked the first time that, according to the pope, Chinese people could feel it was possible to be Catholic and love their own country."
The most contentious issue by far between the Chinese government and the Church is that of appointing bishops. On the one hand, the government sees the papal appointment of bishops as the Church getting involved in the internal affairs of the nation, while Rome sees the issue as an issue of papal authority and the inordinate control of the state.
Liu expressed hope that an agreement could be reached in the near future. "The problem can be resolved. It will be resolved, I hope soon," he was quoted as saying.
At the same time, however, Liu insisted that religion could never be used to interfere in China's internal affairs.
"Beijing will never accept what the church did in Poland," referring to how Pope John Paul II helped rid the country of communism.
Liu explained that in the past the government saw the Church as meddling in the affairs of the state, but stressed that Chinese Catholics always recognized the sole authority of the pope as far as religion was concerned.
"The Holy See is the only representative of Jesus on earth, and as Catholics we must follow it," he said. "What we must affirm is our political and economic independence; otherwise we remain a colonial church."