A joint Vatican-Chinese commission to discuss the matter of formation of priests and religious within the Church of China wrapped up three days of meetings on Wednesday. Among the conclusions of the sessions was the need for "concrete steps" in the Chinese Church to create unity between clergy and the faithful.
During this year's plenary meeting, the delegations from China and the Holy See examined themes tied to the human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral formation of semarians and consecrated people, as well the long term formation of priests.
According to the Vatican statement recognizing the conclusion of the meetings, some "relevant challenges" in China today are the new pastoral demands of evangelizing in the dynamic and complex Chinese society and difficulties arising from formation of clergy.
The statement recognized that the Catholic bishops of China are on the front lines in the work of formation and that "fraternal collaboration" will continue to be offered to them.
Using the Pope's 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics as a guide, the commission "reflected on the manner of promoting unity within the Catholic Church in China and of overcoming the difficulties that it finds in its relationship with civil society."
The Vatican communique said that steps have been taken to respond to the Pope's invitation in the 2007 Letter to bring about "true ecclesial communion" in the country. The Church in China has been divided since 1957 between the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the underground Church, which is not recognized by the Chinese government.
The statement also acknowledged the "necessity to urgently take 'concrete steps' to grow and manifest spiritual links between pastors and the faithful" in China.
Both sides expressed their hope that Chinese bishops will continue in their commitment to promote the unity of faith and life for Catholics in the country, thus avoiding "gestures that contradict communion with the Pope" and "create difficulties" with respect to ecclesial communion.
The participants also expressed their hope and prayer that through "respectful and open" dialogue between Chinese government authorities and the Holy See, bishops and priests in China might be able to exercise their ministries fully and freely.
The note from the Vatican documenting the actions during the sessions also related that Pope Benedict met with participants at the conclusion of their meetings, at which time he underlined the importance of formation being based on friendship with Jesus and of bishops playing an important part in formation.
Benedict XVI also thanked the commission, which he established in 2007, for its continued efforts.