A commission established by Pope Benedict XVI to study issues concerning the life of the Church in China met in the Vatican from March 10-12. The group examined the impact of the Pope’s May 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics and discussed the future of the Catholic Church in China.
Benedict made clear from the outset of his papacy two years ago that improving relations with China was a key priority. He has been reaching out to the country in an effort to restore diplomatic ties and unite China's estimated 12 million faithful.
Participants in the commission first examined the reaction to the pontifical document within China and around the world. “They reflected on the theological principles that inspired the Letter” to discuss future possibilities for “the Catholic community in China.”
The main topic discussed by the members was the “Church's mission as 'instrument of salvation' for the Chinese people." This topic brought several different contexts to mind: evangelization in a world experiencing globalization; the application, in China's current situation, of the Vatican Council II doctrine on the nature and structure of the Church; forgiveness and reconciliation within the Catholic community; the requirements of truth and charity; the government of dioceses, which has great relevance for pastoral activity and for the formation of priests, seminarians, religious and lay faithful.”
The need to foster “a respectful and constructive dialogue with the authorities” was also emphasized by the commission members. This type of dialogue is seen as key to bringing about unity within the Church in China, which is divided into an underground Church and a state sanctioned Church. The state-run Church insists on Communist party officials regulating the internal governance of the Church and on appointing bishops, a fact which undermines the primacy of the Pope. Progress has been made recently in the area of episcopal appointments, with the Chinese government and the Vatican coming to agreements on who should be appointed as a bishop.
The final part of the meeting was dedicated to an exchange of “information and experiences concerning the life and activity of the Church in China.”
At the conclusion of the three days, the commission met with the Holy Father who listened to an account of their work and “encouraged the participants to continue their commitment in favor of the Catholic community in China.”
Pope Benedict also reminded the group to observe the upcoming Universal Day of Prayer for the Church in China on May 24.