An "underground" bishop in northeastern China issued a two-page pastoral letter July 12, asking his flock to study and act on the letter Pope Benedict XVI recently wrote for Catholics in Mainland China.
According to a report by UCA News, Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar said the Pope's lengthy letter, released on June 30, marks a new milestone in the development of the Chinese Church.
The 48-year-old bishop also asked the faithful to pray for the unity of the diocese in the next three months, to adore the Blessed Sacrament and to fast three days a week.
In his pastoral letter, Bishop Wei admits that a challenge is presented by the Holy See's revocation of faculties and pastoral directives previously granted to the underground Church community. Though this development is painful, the bishop says, it puts China's Church back on the right track.
Acknowledging the Pope's call for reconciliation between the "open" and "underground" Church communities, the bishop said he wishes to reconcile with five of his priests who rejected his leadership last September.
UCA News reported that those priests were unhappy that the bishop dialogued with the government and registered worshipping venues. The priests viewed these actions as no different from joining the Catholic Patriotic Association and the "open" Church.
However, Bishop Wei's pastoral letter asserts that registering churches with the local government conforms to what the Pope said: Catholics can dialogue with the authorities on aspects of Church life that fall within the civil sphere.
Bishop Wei told UCA News that some Church premises in his diocese have been registered since the early 1980s, when religious activities revived in the mainland.
His letter insists that these decisions were based on consensus among his priests and in accordance with Catholic doctrine. He asks his laypeople to understand his goodwill and his difficulties, and to trust the decisions made.
He also states in his pastoral letter that “we finally know clearly" that underground Catholics can be in sacramental communion with open Church clergy who are in communion with the Pope. But, he underlines, that in his diocese, some "open" priests are not in communion with him nor with other Holy See-recognized bishops.
He also said he hopes his priests will approach the issue of concelebrating Mass with those clergy with "a positive attitude and the principle of reconciliation."
Subsequently, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong issued a cautionary note about the move to register worshipping venues with the government and concelebrating with Patriotic Association clergy that reject the Pope.
“What precedes in the [Pope’s] letter seems rather to discourage them from seeking recognition because, as the letter says: ‘In not a few particular instances, indeed almost always, in the procedure of recognition, the intervention of agencies obliges the people involved to adopt attitudes (accept an independent Church), make gestures (concelebrate with illegitimate bishops) and undertake commitments (join the Patriotic Association) that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics,’” the cardinal reportedly said.