COMMUNIQUE ON MEETING ON CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
VATICAN CITY, 14 APR 2011 (VIS) - At midday today the Holy See Press Office
published the following English-language communique on the IVth Plenary Meeting,
held in the Vatican from 11 to 13 April, of the Commission instituted by Pope
Benedict XVI in 2007 to study questions of major importance concerning the life
of the Church in China.
At the end of the meeting, the participants addressed a message to Chinese
"1. Moved by love for the Church in China , by sorrow for the trials you are
undergoing and by the desire to encourage you, we deepened our knowledge of the
ecclesial situation by means of a panoramic vision of the organization and life
of the ecclesiastical circumscriptions in your country. We noted the general
climate of disorientation and anxiety about the future, the sufferings of some
circumscriptions deprived of Pastors, the internal divisions of others, the
preoccupation of still others who do not have sufficient personnel and means to
tackle the phenomena of growing urbanization and depopulation of rural areas.
"From an examination of the information, there also emerged a living faith and
an experience of the Church, capable of dialoguing in a fruitful way with the
social realities of each territory.
"2. We encourage the Bishops, together with their priests, to conform themselves
ever more closely to Christ the Good Shepherd, to ensure that their faithful do
not lack education in the faith, to stimulate a just industriousness and to
strive to build, wherever they are lacking and are necessary, new places of
worship and education in the faith and, especially, to form mature Christian
communities. We also invite Pastors to take care of the life of the faithful
with renewed commitment and enthusiasm, especially in its essential elements of
catechesis and liturgy. We exhort the same Pastors to teach priests, by their
own example, to love, forgive and remain faithful. We also invite ecclesial
communities to continue to proclaim the Gospel with ever more intense fervour,
while we unite ourselves to their gratitude to God for the baptism of adults,
which will be celebrated during the upcoming days of Easter.
"3. We dwelt in particular on some difficulties which have recently emerged in
"As far as the sad episode of the episcopal ordination in Chengde is concerned,
the Holy See, on the basis of the information and testimonies it has so far
received, while having no reason to consider it invalid, does regard it as
gravely illegitimate, since it was conferred without the Papal mandate, and this
also renders illegitimate the exercise of the ministry. We are also saddened
because this took place after a series of consensual episcopal ordinations and
because the consecrating Bishops were subjected to various constrictions. As the
Holy Father wrote in his Letter of 2007: 'the Holy See follows the appointment
of Bishops with special care since this touches the very heart of the life of
the Church, inasmuch as the appointment of Bishops by the Pope is the guarantee
of the unity of the Church and of hierarchical communion. For this reason the
Code of Canon Law (cf. c. 1382) lays down grave sanctions both for the Bishop
who freely confers episcopal ordination without an apostolic mandate and for the
one who receives it: such an ordination in fact inflicts a painful wound upon
ecclesial communion and constitutes a grave violation of canonical discipline.
The Pope, when he issues the apostolic mandate for the ordination of a Bishop,
exercises his supreme spiritual authority: this authority and this intervention
remain within the strictly religious sphere. It is not, therefore, a question of
a political authority, unduly asserting itself in the internal affairs of a
State and offending against its sovereignty' (No. 9).
"The external pressures and constrictions could mean that excommunication is not
automatically incurred. However, there remains a grave wound, perpetrated on the
ecclesial body. Every Bishop involved is therefore obliged to refer to the Holy
See and find the means of explaining his position to the priests and faithful,
renewing his profession of fidelity to the Supreme Pontiff, to help them to
overcome their interior suffering and repair the external scandal caused.
"We are close to you in these difficult times. We invite priests, consecrated
persons and lay faithful to understand the difficulties of their Bishops, to
encourage them, to support them by their solidarity and prayer.
"4. With regard to the 8th National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, the
words of the Holy Father, once again, are inspiring: 'Considering "Jesus'
original plan", it is clear that the claim of some entities, desired by the
State and extraneous to the structure of the Church, to place themselves above
the Bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, does not
correspond to Catholic doctrine, according to which the Church is "apostolic",
as the II Vatican Council underlined. (...) Likewise, the declared purpose of
the aforementioned entities to implement "the principles of independence and
autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church" is
incompatible with Catholic doctrine' (No. 7).
"5. The choice of Pastors for the governance of the numerous vacant dioceses is
an urgent necessity, and, at the same time, a source of deep concern. The
Commission strongly hopes that there will not be new wounds to ecclesial
communion, and asks the Lord for strength and courage for all of the persons
involved. Concerning this, one should also bear in mind what Pope Benedict XVI
has written: 'The Holy See would desire to be completely free to appoint
Bishops; therefore, considering the recent particular developments of the Church
in China, I trust that an accord can be reached with the Government so as to
resolve certain questions regarding the choice of candidates for the episcopate,
the publication of the appointment of Bishops, and the recognition - concerning
civil effects where necessary - of the new Bishops on the part of the civil
authorities' (No. 9). We make these desires ours and we look with trepidation
and fear to the future: we know that it is not entirely in our hands and we
launch an appeal so that the problems do not grow and that the divisions are not
deepened, at the expense of harmony and peace.
" 6. In examining the situation of the ecclesiastical circumscriptions, various
difficulties regarding their boundaries have emerged. Concerning this, the
necessity of taking note of the changed circumstances was recognised as well as
the need of respecting the ecclesiastical norms and always keeping in mind what
is written in the Papal Letter to the Catholics in China: 'I wish to confirm
that the Holy See is prepared to address the entire question of the
circumscriptions and ecclesiastical provinces in an open and constructive
dialogue with the Chinese Episcopate and - where opportune and helpful - with
governmental authorities' (No. 11).
"7. Finally, we dwelt on the theme of formation of seminarians and female
religious, inside and outside of China ... We have noted with pleasure that the
Catholic communities in China organise within themselves initiatives for the
purpose of formation.
"8. We hope that the sincere and respectful dialogue with the civil authorities
may help to overcome the difficulties of the present moment, so that the
relations with the Catholic Church may also contribute to harmony in society.
"9. We have learnt with joy the news that the diocese of Shanghai can start the
beatification cause of Paul Xu Guangqi, which will be added to that of Fr.
Matteo Ricci, S.J.
"10. To overcome the difficult situations of each community, prayer will be of
great help. Various initiatives can be organised, which will help to renew your
communication of faith in Our Lord Jesus and of fidelity to the Pope, so that
the unity among you may be ever more deepened and visible.
" 11. In the gathering that took place at the end of the Plenary Meeting, His
Holiness recognised the desire for unity with the See of Peter and with the
Universal Church which the Chinese faithful never cease to manifest,
notwithstanding being in the midst of many difficulties and afflictions. The
faith of the Church, set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and to be
defended even at the price of sacrifice, is the foundation on which the Catholic
communities in China should grow in unity and communion".
Vatican Declaration on
Benedict XVI's Letter to Chinese Catholics (2007)
"A Pressing Invitation to
Charity, Unity and Truth"
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 30, 2007 - Here is the
declaration published by the Holy See upon releasing the letter
Benedict XVI wrote to the Catholics
* * *
Declaration: Letter of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the
Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women, and lay faithful of the
Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China
By means of his Letter, which is made public today, Pope
Benedict XVI wishes to express his love for the Catholic community in
China and his closeness to it.
From the text of the Papal document two basic attitudes
are clear: on the one hand, deep spiritual affection for all Catholics
in China and cordial esteem for the Chinese people, and, on the other,
an earnest appeal to the perennial principles of the Catholic tradition
and the Second Vatican Council in the ecclesiological sphere. It is,
therefore, a pressing invitation to charity, unity and truth.
The Letter is directed to the Church in China and deals
with eminently religious questions, responding to precise queries which
have been addressed for some time to the Holy See by Chinese Bishops
and priests. It is not, therefore, a political document, nor, much
less, an indictment of the government authorities, although it does not
ignore the well-known difficulties which the Church in China must daily
The Holy Father recalls the "original plan" which Christ
had for his Church and which he entrusted to the Apostles and their
successors, the Bishops. In this light, he takes into consideration
various problems of the Church in China which emerged during the past
fifty years. From this "plan" he also draws inspiration and formulates
guidelines to tackle and resolve, in a spirit of communion and truth,
the said problems.
In the Letter, Benedict XVI declares himself fully
available and open to a serene and constructive dialogue with the civic
authorities in order to find a solution to the various problems
concerning the Catholic community, and to reach the desired
normalization of relations between the Holy See and the Government of
the People’s Republic of China, in the certainty that Catholics, by
freely professing their faith and by giving generous witness of life,
contribute also, as good citizens, to the good of the Chinese people.
Saturday, 30 June 2007
Benedict XVI's Letter to Chinese
"Willingness to Engage in Respectful and Constructive
VATICAN CITY, JUNE 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a
Vatican translation of the letter Benedict XVI wrote to the Catholics
in China, signed by the Pope on May 27, the solemnity of Pentecost. The
Vatican press office released the letter today.
* * *
LETTER OF THE HOLY FATHER POPE BENEDICT XVI TO THE
AND LAY FAITHFUL
OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
IN THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
1. Dear Brother Bishops, dear priests, consecrated persons
and all the faithful of the Catholic Church in China: ''We always thank
God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because
we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you
have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven
... We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled
with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and
understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to
him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge
of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his
glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy'' (Col 1:3-5,
These words of the Apostle Paul are highly appropriate for
expressing the sentiments that I, as the Successor of Peter and
universal Pastor of the Church, feel towards you. You know well how
much you are present in my heart and in my daily prayer and how deep is
the relationship of communion that unites us spiritually.
Purpose of the Letter
2. I wish, therefore, to convey to all of you the
expression of my fraternal closeness. With intense joy I acknowledge
your faithfulness to Christ the Lord and to the Church, a faithfulness
that you have manifested ''sometimes at the price of grave
sufferings'', since ''it has been granted to you that for the sake
of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his
sake'' (Phil 1:29). Nevertheless, some important aspects of the
ecclesial life of your country give cause for concern.
Without claiming to deal with every detail of the complex
matters well known to you, I wish through this letter to offer some
guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of
evangelization in China, in order to help you discover what the Lord
and Master, Jesus Christ, ''the key, the centre and the purpose of the
whole of human history'' wants from you.
THE SITUATION OF THE CHURCH
Globalization, modernity and atheism
3. As I turn my attention towards your People, which has
distinguished itself among the other peoples of Asia for the splendour
of its ancient civilization, with all its experience of wisdom,
philosophy, art and science, I am pleased to note how, especially in
recent times, it has also moved decisively towards achieving
significant goals of socio-economic progress, attracting the interest
of the entire world.
As my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II once said,
''The Catholic Church for her part regards with respect this impressive
thrust and far-sighted planning, and with discretion offers her own
contribution in the promotion and defence of the human person, and of
the person's values, spirituality and transcendent vocation. The Church
has very much at heart the values and objectives which are of primary
importance also to modern China: solidarity, peace, social justice, the
wise management of the phenomenon of globalization''.
The pressure to attain the desired and necessary economic
and social development and the search for modernity are accompanied by
two different and contrasting phenomena, both of which should
nonetheless be evaluated with equal prudence and a positive apostolic
spirit. On the one hand, especially among the young, one can detect a
growing interest in the spiritual and transcendent dimension of the
human person, with a consequent interest in religion, particularly in
Christianity. On the other hand, there are signs, in China too, of the
tendency towards materialism and hedonism, which are spreading from the
big cities to the entire country.
In this context, in which you are called to live and work,
I want to remind you of what Pope John Paul II emphasized so strongly
and vigorously: the new evangelization demands the proclamation of the
Gospel to modern man, with a keen awareness that, just as during the
first Christian millennium the Cross was planted in Europe and during
the second in the American continent and in Africa, so during the third
millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in the vast and
vibrant Asian continent.
" 'Duc in altum' (Lk 5:4). These words ring out for us
today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live
the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with
confidence: 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever'
(Heb 13:8)'' In China too the Church is called to be a witness of
Christ, to look forward with hope, and -- in proclaiming the Gospel --
to measure up to the new challenges that the Chinese People must face.
The word of God helps us, once again, to discover the
mysterious and profound meaning of the Church's path in the world. In
fact ''the subject of one of the most important visions of the Book of
Revelation is [the] Lamb in the act of opening a scroll, previously
closed with seven seals that no one had been able to break open. John
is even shown in tears, for he finds no one worthy of opening the
scroll or reading it (cf. Rev 5:4). History remains indecipherable,
incomprehensible. No one can read it. Perhaps John's weeping before the
mystery of a history so obscure expresses the Asian Churches' dismay at
God's silence in the face of the persecutions to which they were
exposed at the time. It is a dismay that can clearly mirror our
consternation in the face of the serious difficulties,
misunderstandings and hostility that the Church also suffers today in
various parts of the world. These are trials that the Church does not
of course deserve, just as Jesus himself did not deserve his torture.
However, they reveal both the wickedness of man, when he abandons
himself to the promptings of evil, and also the superior ordering of
events on God's part''.
Today, as in the past, to proclaim the Gospel means to
preach and bear witness to Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, the new
Man, conqueror of sin and death. He enables human beings to enter into
a new dimension, where mercy and love shown even to enemies can bear
witness to the victory of the Cross over all weakness and human
wretchedness. In your country too, the proclamation of Christ crucified
and risen will be possible to the extent that, with fidelity to the
Gospel, in communion with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and with
the universal Church, you are able to put into practice the signs of
love and unity (''even as I have loved you, that you also love one
another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you
have love for one another ... even as you, Father, are in me, and I in
you, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe
that you have sent me'' -- Jn 13:34-35; 17:21).
Willingness to engage in respectful and constructive
4. As universal Pastor of the Church, I wish to manifest
sincere gratitude to the Lord for the deeply-felt witness of
faithfulness offered by the Chinese Catholic community in truly
difficult circumstances. At the same time, I sense the urgent need, as
my deep and compelling duty and as an expression of my paternal love,
to confirm the faith of Chinese Catholics and favour their unity with
the means proper to the Church.
I am also following with particular interest the events of
the entire Chinese People, whom I regard with sincere admiration and
sentiments of friendship, to the point where I express the hope ''that
concrete forms of communication and cooperation between the Holy See
and the People's Republic of China may soon be established. Friendship
is nourished by contacts, by a sharing in the joy and sadness of
different situations, by solidarity and mutual assistance'' And
pursuing this line of argument, my venerable predecessor added: ''It is
no secret that the Holy See, in the name of the whole Catholic Church
and, I believe, for the benefit of the whole human family, hopes for
the opening of some form of dialogue with the authorities of the
People's Republic of China. Once the misunderstandings of the past have
been overcome, such a dialogue would make it possible for us to work
together for the good of the Chinese People and for peace in the
I realize that the normalization of relations with the
People's Republic of China requires time and presupposes the good will
of both parties. For its part, the Holy See always remains open to
negotiations, so necessary if the difficulties of the present time are
to be overcome.
This situation of misunderstandings and incomprehension
weighs heavily, serving the interests of neither the Chinese
authorities nor the Catholic Church in China. As Pope John Paul II
stated, recalling what Father Matteo Ricci wrote from Beijing, ''so
too today the Catholic Church seeks no privilege from China and its
lead- ers, but solely the resumption of dialogue, in order to build a
relationship based upon mutual respect and deeper understanding''.
Let China rest assured that the Catholic Church sincerely proposes to
offer, once again, humble and disinterested service in the areas of her
competence, for the good of Chinese Catholics and for the good of all
the inhabitants of the country.
As far as relations between the political community and
the Church in China are concerned, it is worth calling to mind the
enlightening teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which states:
''The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified
with any political community nor is she tied to any political system.
She is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental
dimension of the human person''. And the Council continues: ''The
political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of
each other in their own fields. They are both at the service of the
personal and social vocation of the same individuals, though under
different titles. Their service will be more efficient and beneficial
to all if both institutions develop better cooperation according to the
circumstances of place and time''.
Likewise, therefore, the Catholic Church which is in China
does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of
the State; rather, her mission is to proclaim Christ to men and women,
as the Saviour of the world, basing herself -- in carrying out her
proper apostolate -- on the power of God. As I recalled in my
Encyclical "Deus Caritas Est," ''The Church cannot and must not take
upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society
possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same
time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for
justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has
to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always
demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be
the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of
justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the
demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church
In the light of these unrenounceable principles, the
solution to existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict
with the legitimate civil authorities; at the same time, though,
compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere
unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church. The
civil authorities are well aware that the Church in her teaching
invites the faithful to be good citizens, respectful and active
contributors to the common good in their country, but it is likewise
clear that she asks the State to guarantee to those same Catholic
citizens the full exercise of their faith, with respect for authentic
Communion between particular Churches in the universal
5. Beloved Catholic Church in China, you are a small flock
present and active within the vastness of an immense People journeying
through history. How stirring and encouraging these words of Jesus are
for you: ''Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good
pleasure to give you the kingdom'' (Lk 12:32)! ''You are the salt of
the earth ... you are the light of the world'': therefore ''let your
light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give
glory to your Father who is in heaven'' (Mt 5:13, 14, 16).
In the Catholic Church which is in China, the universal
Church is present, the Church of Christ, which in the Creed we
acknowledge to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, that is to say,
the universal community of the Lord's disciples.
As you know, the profound unity which binds together the
particular Churches found in China, and which likewise places them in
intimate communion with all the other particular Churches throughout
the world, has its roots not only in the same faith and in a common
Baptism, but above all in the Eucharist and in the episcopate.
Likewise, the unity of the episcopate, of which ''the Roman Pontiff, as
the Successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and
foundation'', continues down the centuries through the apostolic
succession and is the foundation of the identity of the Church in every
age with the Church built by Christ on Peter and on the other
Catholic doctrine teaches that the Bishop is the visible
source and foundation of unity in the particular Church entrusted to
his pastoral ministry. But in every particular Church, in order
that she may be fully Church, there must be present the supreme
authority of the Church, that is to say, the episcopal College together
with its Head, the Roman Pontiff, and never apart from him. Therefore
the ministry of the Successor of Peter belongs to the essence of every
particular Church ''from within''. Moreover, the communion of all
the particular Churches in the one Catholic Church, and hence the
ordered hierarchical communion of all the Bishops, successors of the
Apostles, with the Successor of Peter, are a guarantee of the unity of
the faith and life of all Catholics. It is therefore indispensable, for
the unity of the Church in individual nations, that every Bishop should
be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in
visible and concrete communion with the Pope.
No one in the Church is a foreigner, but all are citizens
of the same People, members of the same Mystical Body of Christ. The
bond of sacramental communion is the Eucharist, guaranteed by the
ministry of Bishops and priests.
The whole of the Church which is in China is called to
live and to manifest this unity in a richer spirituality of communion,
so that, taking account of the complex concrete situations in which the
Catholic community finds itself, she may also grow in a harmonious
hierarchical communion. Therefore, Pastors and faithful are called to
defend and to safeguard what belongs to the doctrine and the tradition
of the Church.
Tensions and divisions within the Church: pardon and
6. Addressing the whole Church in his Apostolic Letter
"Novo Millennio Ineunte," my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II,
stated that an ''important area in which there has to be commitment and
planning on the part of the universal Church and the particular
Churches [is] the domain of communion (koinonia), which embodies and
reveals the very essence of the mystery of the Church. Communion is the
fruit and demonstration of that love which springs from the heart of
the Eternal Father and is poured out upon us through the Spirit whom
Jesus gives us (cf. Rom 5:5), to make us all 'one heart and one soul'
(Acts 4:32). It is in building this communion of love that the Church
appears as 'sacrament', as the 'sign and instrument of intimate union
with God and of the unity of the human race.' The Lord's words on this
point are too precise for us to diminish their import. Many things are
necessary for the Church's journey through history, not least in this
new century; but without charity (agape) all will be in vain. It is
again the Apostle Paul who in his hymn to love reminds us: even if we
speak the tongues of men and of angels, and if we have faith 'to move
mountains', but are without love, all will come to 'nothing' (cf. 1 Cor
13:2). Love is truly the 'heart' of the Church''.
These matters, which concern the very nature of the
universal Church, have a particular significance for the Church which
is in China. Indeed you are aware of the problems that she is seeking
to overcome -- within herself and in her relations with Chinese civil
society -- tensions, divisions and recriminations.
In this regard, last year, while speaking of the nascent
Church, I had occasion to recall that ''from the start the community of
the disciples has known not only the joy of the Holy Spirit, the grace
of truth and love, but also trials that are constituted above all by
disagreements about the truths of faith, with the consequent wounds to
communion. Just as the fellowship of love has existed since the outset
and will continue to the end (cf. 1 Jn 1:1ff.), so also, from the
start, division unfortunately arose. We should not be surprised that it
still exists today ... Thus, in the events of the world but also in the
weaknesses of the Church, there is always a risk of losing faith,
hence, also love and brotherhood. Consequently it is a specific duty of
those who believe in the Church of love and want to live in her to
recognize this danger too''.
The history of the Church teaches us, then, that authentic
communion is not expressed without arduous efforts at
reconciliation. Indeed, the purification of memory, the pardoning
of wrong-doers, the forgetting of injustices suffered and the loving
restoration to serenity of troubled hearts, all to be accomplished in
the name of Jesus crucified and risen, can require moving beyond
personal positions or viewpoints, born of painful or difficult
experiences. These are urgent steps that must be taken if the bonds of
communion between the faithful and the Pastors of the Church in China
are to grow and be made visible.
For this reason, my venerable predecessor on several
occasions addressed to you an urgent invitation to pardon and
reconciliation. In this regard, I am pleased to recall a passage from
the message that he sent you at the approach of the Holy Year 2000:
''In your preparation for the Great Jubilee, remember that in the
biblical tradition this moment always entailed the obligation to
forgive one another's debts, to make satisfaction for injustices
committed, and to be reconciled with one's neighbour. You too have
heard the proclamation of the 'great joy prepared for all peoples': the
love and mercy of the Father, the Redemption accomplished in Christ. To
the extent that you yourselves are ready to accept this joyful
proclamation, you will be able to pass it on, by your lives, to the men
and women around you. My ardent desire is that you will respond to the
interior promptings of the Holy Spirit by forgiving one another
whatever needs to be forgiven, by drawing closer to one another, by
accepting one another and by breaking down all barriers in order to
overcome every possible cause of division. Do not forget the words of
Jesus at the Last Supper: 'By this all will know that you are my
disciples, if you have love for one another' (Jn 13:35). I rejoiced
when I learned that you intend your most precious gift on the occasion
of the Great Jubilee to be unity among yourselves and unity with the
Successor of Peter. This intention can only be a fruit of the Spirit
who guides the Church along the arduous paths of reconciliation and
We all realize that this journey cannot be accomplished
overnight, but be assured that the whole Church will raise up an
insistent prayer for you to this end.
Keep in mind, moreover, that your path of reconciliation
is supported by the example and the prayer of so many ''witnesses of
the faith'' who have suffered and have forgiven, offering their lives
for the future of the Catholic Church in China. Their very existence
represents a permanent blessing for you in the presence of our Heavenly
Father, and their memory will not fail to produce abundant fruit.
Ecclesial communities and State agencies: relationships to
be lived in truth and charity.
7. A careful analysis of the aforementioned painful
situation of serious differences (cf. section 6 above), involving the
lay faithful and their Pastors, highlights among the various causes the
significant part played by entities that have been imposed as the
principal determinants of the life of the Catholic community. Still
today, in fact, recognition from these entities is the criterion for
declaring a community, a person or a religious place legal and
therefore ''official''. All this has caused division both among the
clergy and among the lay faithful. It is a situation primarily
dependent on factors external to the Church, but it has seriously
conditioned her progress, giving rise also to suspicions, mutual
accusations and recriminations, and it continues to be a weakness in
the Church that causes concern.
Regarding the delicate issue of the relations to be
maintained with the agencies of the State, particular enlightenment can
be found in the invitation of the Second Vatican Council to follow the
words and modus operandi of Jesus Christ. He, indeed, ''did not wish to
be a political Messiah who would dominate by force but preferred to
call himself the Son of Man who came to serve, and 'to give his life as
a ransom for many' (Mk 10:45). He showed himself as the perfect Servant
of God who 'will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering
wick' (Mt 12:20). He recognized civil authority and its rights when he
ordered tribute to be paid to Caesar, but he gave clear warning that
the greater rights of God must be respected: 'Render therefore to
Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God, the things that are
God's' (Mt 22:21). Finally, he brought his revelation to perfection
when he accomplished on the Cross the work of redemption by which he
achieved salvation and true freedom for the human race. For he bore
witness to the truth but refused to use force to impose it on those
who spoke out against it. His Kingdom does not establish its claims by
force, but is established by bearing witness to and listening to
the truth and it grows by the love with which Christ, lifted up on the
Cross, draws people to himself (cf. Jn 12:32)''.
Truth and charity are the two supporting pillars of the
life of the Christian community. For this reason, I have observed that
''the Church of love is also the Church of truth, understood primarily
as fidelity to the Gospel entrusted by the Lord Jesus to his followers
... However, if the family of God's children is to live in unity and
peace, it needs someone to keep it in the truth and guide it with wise
and authoritative discernment: this is what the ministry of the
Apostles is required to do. And here we come to an important point. The
Church is wholly of the Spirit but has a structure, the apostolic
succession, which is responsible for guaranteeing that the Church
endures in the truth given by Christ, from whom the capacity to love
also comes ... The Apostles and their successors are therefore the
custodians and authoritative witnesses of the deposit of truth
consigned to the Church, and are likewise the ministers of charity.
These are two aspects that go together ... Truth and love are the two
faces of the same gift that comes from God and, thanks to the apostolic
ministry, is safeguarded in the Church and handed down to us, to our
Therefore the Second Vatican Council underlines that
"those also have a claim on our respect and charity who think and act
differently from us in social, political, and religious matters. In
fact, the more deeply, through courtesy and love, we come to understand
their ways of thinking, the more easily will we be able to enter into
dialogue with them''. But, as the same Council admonishes us, "love and
courtesy of this kind should not, of course, make us indifferent to
truth and goodness''.
Considering "Jesus' original plan'', it is clear that
the claim of some entities, desired by the State and extraneous to the
structure of the Church, to place themselves above the Bishops and to
guide the life of the ecclesial community, does not correspond to
Catholic doctrine, according to which the Church is "apostolic'', as
the Second Vatican Council underlined. The Church is apostolic "in her
origin because she has been built on 'the foundation of the Apostles'
(Eph 2:20). She is apostolic in her teaching which is the same as that
of the Apostles. She is apostolic by reason of her structure insofar as
she is taught, sanctified, and guided until Christ returns by the
Apostles through their successors who are the Bishops in communion with
the Successor of Peter''. Therefore, in every individual particular
Church, "it is in the name of the Lord that the diocesan Bishop [and
only he] leads the flock entrusted to him, and he does so as the
proper, ordinary and immediate Pastor''; at a national level,
moreover, only a legitimate Episcopal Conference can formulate pastoral
guidelines, valid for the entire Catholic community of the country
Likewise, the declared purpose of the afore-mentioned
entities to implement "the principles of independence and autonomy,
self-management and democratic administration of the Church'' is
incompatible with Catholic doctrine, which from the time of the ancient
Creeds professes the Church to be "one, holy, catholic and apostolic''.
In the light of the principles here outlined, Pastors and
lay faithful will recall that the preaching of the Gospel, catechesis
and charitable activity, liturgical and cultic action, as well as all
pastoral choices, are uniquely the competence of the Bishops together
with their priests in the unbroken continuity of the faith handed down
by the Apostles in the Sacred Scriptures and in Tradition, and
therefore they cannot be subject to any external interference.
Given this difficult situation, not a few members of the
Catholic community are asking whether recognition from the civil
authorities -- necessary in order to function publicly -- somehow
compromises communion with the universal Church. I am fully aware that
this problem causes painful disquiet in the hearts of Pastors and
faithful. In this regard I maintain, in the first place, that the
requisite and courageous safeguarding of the deposit of faith and of
sacramental and hierarchical communion is not of itself opposed to
dialogue with the authorities concerning those aspects of the life of
the ecclesial community that fall within the civil sphere. There would
not be any particular difficulties with acceptance of the recognition
granted by civil authorities on condition that this does not entail the
denial of unrenounceable principles of faith and of ecclesiastical
communion. In not a few particular instances, however, indeed almost
always, in the process of recognition the intervention of certain
bodies obliges the people involved to adopt attitudes, make gestures
and undertake commitments that are contrary to the dictates of their
conscience as Catholics. I understand, therefore, how in such varied
conditions and circumstances it is difficult to determine the correct
choice to be made. For this reason the Holy See, after restating the
principles, leaves the decision to the individual Bishop who, having
consulted his presbyterate, is better able to know the local situation,
to weigh the concrete possibilities of choice and to evaluate the
possible consequences within the diocesan community. It could be that
the final decision does not obtain the consensus of all the priests and
faithful. I express the hope, however, that it will be accepted, albeit
with suffering, and that the unity of the diocesan community with its
own Pastor will be maintained.
It would be good, finally, if Bishops and priests, with
truly pastoral hearts, were to take every possible step to avoid giving
rise to situations of scandal, seizing opportunities to form the
consciences of the faithful, with particular attention to the weakest:
all this should be lived out in communion and in fraternal
understanding, avoiding judgements and mutual condemnations. In this
case too, it must be kept in mind, especially where there is little
room for freedom, that in order to evaluate the morality of an act it
is necessary to devote particular care to establishing the real
intentions of the person concerned, in addition to the objective
shortcoming. Every case, then, will have to be pondered individually,
taking account of the circumstances.
The Chinese Episcopate
8. In the Church -- the People of God -- only the sacred
ministers, duly ordained after sufficient instruction and formation,
may exercise the office of ''teaching, sanctifying and governing''. The
lay faithful may, with a canonical mission from the Bishop, perform an
ancillary ecclesial ministry of handing on the faith.
In recent years, for various reasons, you, my Brother
Bishops, have encountered difficulties, since persons who are not
"ordained'', and sometimes not even baptized, control and take
decisions concerning important ecclesial questions, including the
appointment of Bishops, in the name of various State agencies.
Consequently, we have witnessed a demeaning of the Petrine and
episcopal ministries by virtue of a vision of the Church according to
which the Supreme Pontiff, the Bishops and the priests risk becoming de
facto persons without office and without power. Yet in fact, as stated
earlier, the Petrine and episcopal ministries are essential and
integral elements of Catholic doctrine on the sacramental structure of
the Church. The nature of the Church is a gift of the Lord Jesus,
because "his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets,
some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for
the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all
attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of
God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness
of Christ'' (Eph 4:11-13).
Communion and unity -- let me repeat (cf. section 5 above)
-- are essential and integral elements of the Catholic Church:
therefore the proposal for a Church that is ''independent'' of the Holy
See, in the religious sphere, is incompatible with Catholic doctrine.
I am aware of the grave difficulties which you have to
address in the aforementioned situation in order to remain faithful to
Christ, to his Church and to the Successor of Peter. Reminding you that
-- as Saint Paul said (cf. Rom 8:35-39) -- no difficulty can separate
us from the love of Christ, I am confident that you will do everything
possible, trusting in the Lord's grace, to safeguard unity and
ecclesial communion even at the cost of great sacrifices.
Many members of the Chinese episcopate who have guided the
Church in recent decades have offered and continue to offer a shining
testimony to their own communities and to the universal Church. Once
again, let a heartfelt hymn of praise and thanksgiving be sung to the
"chief Shepherd'' of the flock (1 Pet 5:4): in fact, it must not be
forgotten that many Bishops have undergone persecution and have been
impeded in the exercise of their ministry, and some of them have made
the Church fruitful with the shedding of their blood. Modern times and
the consequent challenge of the new evangelization highlight the role
of the episcopal ministry. As John Paul II said to the Pastors from
every part of the world who gathered in Rome for the celebration of the
Jubilee, "the Pastor is the first to take responsibility for and to
encourage the ecclesial community, both in the requirement of communion
and in the missionary outreach. Regarding the relativism and
subjectivism which mar so much of contemporary culture, Bishops are
called to defend and promote the doctrinal unity of their faithful.
Concerned for every situation in which the faith has been lost or is
unknown, they work with all their strength for evangelization,
preparing priests, religious and lay people for this task and making
the necessary resources available''.
On the same occasion, my venerable predecessor recalled
that "the Bishop, a successor of the Apostles, is someone for whom
Christ is everything: 'For to me to live is Christ ...' (Phil 1:21). He
must bear witness to this in all his actions. The Second Vatican
Council teaches: 'Bishops should devote themselves to their apostolic
office as witnesses of Christ to all' (Decree Christus Dominus,
Concerning episcopal service, then, I take the opportunity
to recall something I said recently: "The Bishops are primarily
responsible for building up the Church as a family of God and a place
of mutual help and availability. To be able to carry out this mission,
you received with episcopal consecration three special offices: the
munus docendi, the munus sanctificandi and the munus regendi, which all
together constitute the munus pascendi. In particular, the aim of the
munus regendi is growth in ecclesial communion, that is, in building a
community in agreement and listening to the Apostles' teaching, the
breaking of bread, prayer and fellowship. Closely linked to the offices
of teaching and of sanctifying, that of governing -- the munus regendi
precisely -- constitutes for the Bishop an authentic act of love for
God and for one's neighbour, which is expressed in pastoral
As in the rest of the world, in China too the Church is
governed by Bishops who, through episcopal ordination conferred upon
them by other validly ordained Bishops, have received, together with
the sanctifying office, the offices of teaching and governing the
people entrusted to them in their respective particular Churches, with
a power that is conferred by God through the grace of the sacrament of
Holy Orders. The offices of teaching and governing ''however, by their
very nature can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the
head and members of the college'' of Bishops. In fact, as the
Council went on to say, "a person is made a member of the episcopal
body in virtue of the sacramental consecration and by hierarchical
communion with the head and members of the college''.
Currently, all the Bishops of the Catholic Church in China
are sons of the Chinese People. Notwithstanding many grave
difficulties, the Catholic Church in China, by a particular grace of
the Holy Spirit, has never been deprived of the ministry of legitimate
Pastors who have preserved the apostolic succession intact. We must
thank the Lord for this constant presence, not without suffering, of
Bishops who have received episcopal ordination in conformity with
Catholic tradition, that is to say, in communion with the Bishop of
Rome, Successor of Peter, and at the hands of validly and legitimately
ordained Bishops in observance of the rite of the Catholic Church.
Some of them, not wishing to be subjected to undue control
exercised over the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total
fidelity to the Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt
themselves constrained to opt for clandestine consecration. The
clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the Church's life, and
history shows that Pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid
suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith and
to resist interference from State agencies in matters pertaining
intimately to the Church's life. For this reason the Holy See hopes
that these legitimate Pastors may be recognized as such by governmental
authorities for civil effects too -- insofar as these are necessary --
and that all the faithful may be able to express their faith freely in
the social context in which they live.
Other Pastors, however, under the pressure of particular
circumstances, have consented to receive episcopal ordination without
the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into
communion with the Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in
the episcopate. The Pope, considering the sincerity of their sentiments
and the complexity of the situation, and taking into account the
opinion of neighbouring Bishops, by virtue of his proper responsibility
as universal Pastor of the Church, has granted them the full and
legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction. This initiative of the
Pope resulted from knowledge of the particular circumstances of their
ordination and from his profound pastoral concern to favour the
reestablishment of full communion. Unfortunately, in most cases,
priests and the faithful have not been adequately informed that their
Bishop has been legitimized, and this has given rise to a number of
grave problems of conscience. What is more, some legitimized Bishops
have failed to provide any clear signs to prove that they have been
legitimized. For this reason it is indispensable, for the spiritual
good of the diocesan communities concerned, that legitimation, once it
has occurred, is brought into the public domain at the earliest
opportunity, and that the legitimized Bishops provide unequivocal and
increasing signs of full communion with the Successor of Peter.
Finally, there are certain Bishops -- a very small number
of them -- who have been ordained without the Pontifical mandate and
who have not asked for or have not yet obtained, the necessary
legitimation. According to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, they
are to be considered illegitimate, but validly ordained, as long as it
is certain that they have received ordination from validly ordained
Bishops and that the Catholic rite of episcopal ordination has been
respected. Therefore, although not in communion with the Pope, they
exercise their ministry validly in the administration of the
sacraments, even if they do so illegitimately. What great spiritual
enrichment would ensue for the Church in China if, the necessary
conditions having been established, these Pastors too were to enter
into communion with the Successor of Peter and with the entire Catholic
episcopate! Not only would their episcopal ministry be legitimized,
there would also be an enrichment of their communion with the priests
and the faithful who consider the Church in China part of the Catholic
Church, united with the Bishop of Rome and with all the other
particular Churches spread throughout the world.
In individual nations, all the legitimate Bishops
constitute an Episcopal Conference, governed according to its own
statutes, which by the norms of canon law must be approved by the
Apostolic See. Such an Episcopal Conference expresses the fraternal
communion of all the Bishops of a nation and treats the doctrinal and
pastoral questions that are significant for the entire Catholic
community of the country without, however, interfering in the exercise
of the ordinary and immediate power of each Bishop in his own diocese.
Moreover, every Episcopal Conference maintains opportune and useful
contacts with the civil authorities of the place, partly in order to
favour cooperation between the Church and the State, but it is obvious
that an Episcopal Conference cannot be subjected to any civil authority
in questions of faith and of living according to the faith (fides et
mores, sacramental life), which are exclusively the competence of the
In the light of the principles expounded above, the
present College of Catholic Bishops of China cannot be recognized
as an Episcopal Conference by the Apostolic See: the "clandestine''
Bishops, those not recognized by the Government but in communion with
the Pope, are not part of it; it includes Bishops who are still
illegitimate, and it is governed by statutes that contain elements
incompatible with Catholic doctrine.
Appointment of Bishops
9. As all of you know, one of the most delicate problems
in relations between the Holy See and the authorities of your country
is the question of episcopal appointments. On the one hand, it is
understandable that governmental authorities are attentive to the
choice of those who will carry out the important role of leading and
shepherding the local Catholic communities, given the social
implications which -- in China as in the rest of the world -- this
function has in the civil sphere as well as the spiritual. On the other
hand, the Holy See follows the appointment of Bishops with special care
since this touches the very heart of the life of the Church, inasmuch
as the appointment of Bishops by the Pope is the guarantee of the unity
of the Church and of hierarchical communion. For this reason the Code
of Canon Law (cf. c. 1382) lays down grave sanctions both for the
Bishop who freely confers episcopal ordination without an apostolic
mandate and for the one who receives it: such an ordination in fact
inflicts a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and constitutes a
grave violation of canonical discipline.
The Pope, when he issues the apostolic mandate for the
ordination of a Bishop, exercises his supreme spiritual authority: this
authority and this intervention remain within the strictly religious
sphere. It is not, therefore, a question of a political authority,
unduly asserting itself in the internal affairs of a State and
offending against its sovereignty.
The appointment of Bishops for a particular religious
community is understood, also in international documents, as a
constitutive element of the full exercise of the right to religious
freedom. The Holy See would desire to be completely free to appoint
Bishops; therefore, considering the recent particular developments
of the Church in China, I trust that an accord can be reached with the
Government so as to resolve certain questions regarding the choice of
candidates for the episcopate, the publication of the appointment of
Bishops, and the recognition -- concerning civil effects where
necessary -- of the new Bishops on the part of the civil authorities.
Finally, as to the choice of candidates for the
episcopate, while knowing your difficulties in this regard, I would
like to remind you that they should be worthy priests, respected and
loved by the faithful, models of life in the faith, and that they
should possess a certain experience in the pastoral ministry, so that
they are equipped to address the burdensome responsibility of a Pastor
of the Church. Whenever it proves impossible within a diocese to
find suitable candidates to occupy the episcopal see, the cooperation
of Bishops in neighbouring dioceses can help to identify suitable
GUIDELINES FOR PASTORAL LIFE
Sacraments, governance of dioceses, parishes
10. In recent times difficulties have emerged, linked to
individual initiatives taken by Pastors, priests and lay faithful, who,
moved by generous pastoral zeal, have not always respected the tasks or
responsibilities of others.
In this regard, the Second Vatican Council reminds us
that, if on the one hand individual Bishops "as members of the
episcopal college and legitimate successors of the Apostles, by
Christ's arrangement and decree [are] bound to be solicitous for the
entire Church'', on the other hand they "exercise their pastoral office
over the portion of the People of God assigned to them, not over other
Churches nor over the Church universal''.
Moreover, faced with certain problems that have emerged in
various diocesan communities during recent years, I feel it incumbent
upon me to recall the canonical norm according to which every cleric
must be incardinated in a particular Church or in an Institute of
consecrated life and must exercise his own ministry in communion with
the diocesan Bishop. Only for good reasons may a cleric exercise his
ministry in another diocese, but always with the prior agreement of the
two diocesan Bishops, that is, the Ordinary of the particular Church in
which he is incardinated and the Ordinary of the particular Church for
whose service he is destined.
In not a few situations, then, you have faced the problem
of concelebration of the Eucharist. In this regard, I remind you that
this presupposes, as conditions, profession of the same faith and
hierarchical communion with the Pope and with the universal Church.
Therefore it is licit to concelebrate with Bishops and with priests who
are in communion with the Pope, even if they are recognized by the
civil authorities and maintain a relationship with entities desired by
the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church, provided -- as
was said earlier (cf. section 7 above, paragraph 8) -- that this
recognition and this relationship do not entail the denial of
unrenounceable principles of the faith and of ecclesiastical communion.
The lay faithful too, who are animated by a sincere love
for Christ and for the Church, must not hesitate to participate in the
Eucharist celebrated by Bishops and by priests who are in full
communion with the Successor of Peter and are recognized by the civil
authorities. The same applies for all the other sacraments.
Concerning Bishops whose consecrations took place without
the pontifical mandate yet respecting the Catholic rite of episcopal
ordination, the resulting problems must always be resolved in the light
of the principles of Catholic doctrine. Their ordination -- as I have
already said (cf. section 8 above, paragraph 12) -- is illegitimate but
valid, just as priestly ordinations conferred by them are valid, and
sacraments administered by such Bishops and priests are likewise valid.
Therefore the faithful, taking this into account, where the eucharistic
celebration and the other sacraments are concerned, must, within the
limits of the possible, seek Bishops and priests who are in communion
with the Pope: nevertheless, where this cannot be achieved without
grave inconvenience, they may, for the sake of their spiritual good,
turn also to those who are not in communion with the Pope.
I consider it opportune, finally, to point out to you what
canonical legislation provides in order to help diocesan Bishops to
carry out their respective pastoral duty. Every diocesan Bishop is
invited to make use of indispensable instruments of communion and
cooperation within the diocesan Catholic community: the diocesan curia,
the presbyteral council, the college of consultors, the diocesan
pastoral council and the diocesan finance council. These agencies
express communion, they favour the sharing of common responsibilities
and are of great assistance to the Pastors, who can thus avail
themselves of the fraternal cooperation of priests, consecrated persons
and lay faithful.
The same is true of the various councils that canon law
provides for parishes: the parish pastoral council and the parish
Both for dioceses and for parishes, particular attention
must be devoted to the Church's temporal goods, moveable and
immoveable, which must be legally registered in the civil sphere in the
name of the diocese or parish and never in the name of individual
persons (that is, the Bishop, parish priest or a group of the
faithful). Meanwhile, the traditional pastoral and missionary guideline
that can be neatly summarized in the principle: "nihil sine Episcopo'';
retains all its validity.
From the analysis of the problems outlined above, it
emerges clearly that any real solution will be rooted in the promotion
of communion, which draws its vigour and impetus, as from a source,
from Christ, the icon of the Father's love. Charity, which is always
above everything (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-12), will be the force and the
criterion in pastoral work for the construction of an ecclesial
community capable of making the Risen Christ present to modern man.
11. Numerous administrative changes have taken place in
the civil sphere during the last fifty years. This has also involved
various ecclesiastical circumscriptions, which have been eliminated or
regrouped or have been modified in their territorial configuration on
the basis of the civil administrative circumscriptions. In this regard,
I wish to confirm that the Holy See is prepared to address the entire
question of the circumscriptions and ecclesiastical provinces in an
open and constructive dialogue with the Chinese Episcopate and -- where
opportune and helpful -- with governmental authorities.
12. I am well aware that the diocesan and parochial
communities, spread over the vast Chinese territory, demonstrate a
particular liveliness of Christian life, witness of faith and pastoral
initiative. It is consoling for me to note that, despite past and
present difficulties, the Bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay
faithful have maintained a profound awareness of being living members
of the universal Church, in communion of faith and life with all the
Catholic communities throughout the world. They know in their hearts
what it means to be Catholic. And it is precisely from this Catholic
heart that the commitment must likewise issue forth to make manifest
and effective, both within individual communities and in relations
between different communities, that spirit of communion, understanding
and forgiveness which -- as was said earlier (cf. section 5 above,
paragraph 4, and section 6) -- is the visible seal of an authentic
Christian life. I am sure that the Spirit of Christ, just as he helped
the communities to keep the faith alive in time of persecution, will
today help all Catholics to grow in unity.
As I have already observed (cf. section 2 above, paragraph
1, and section 4, paragraph 1), members of Catholic communities in your
country -- especially Bishops, priests and consecrated persons -- are
unfortunately not yet allowed to live and to express fully and visibly
certain aspects of their belonging to the Church and their hierarchical
communion with the Pope, since free contact with the Holy See and with
other Catholic communities in various countries is ordinarily impeded.
It is true that in recent years the Church has enjoyed greater
religious freedom than in the past. Nevertheless it cannot be denied
that grave limitations remain that touch the heart of the faith and
that, to a certain degree, suffocate pastoral activity. In this regard
I renew my earnest wish (cf. section 4 above, paragraphs 2, 3, 4) that
in the course of a respectful and open dialogue between the Holy See
and the Chinese Bishops on the one hand, and the governmental
authorities on the other, the difficulties mentioned may be overcome
and thus a fruitful understanding may be reached that will prove
beneficial to the Catholic community and to social cohesion.
13. I would now like to address a special reflection and
an invitation to priests -- especially those ordained in recent years
-- who have undertaken the path of the pastoral ministry with such
generosity. It seems to me that the current ecclesial and
socio-political situation renders ever more urgent the need to draw
light and strength from the well-springs of priestly spirituality,
which are God's love, the unconditional following of Christ, passion
for proclamation of the Gospel, faithfulness to the Church and generous
service of neighbour. How can I fail to recall, in this regard, as
an encouragement for all, the shining examples of Bishops and priests
who, in the difficult years of the recent past, have testified to an
unfailing love for the Church, even by the gift of their own lives for
her and for Christ?
My dear priests! You who bear "the burden of the day and
the scorching heat'' (Mt 20:12), who have put your hand to the plough
and do not look back (cf. Lk 9:62): think of those places where the
faithful are waiting anxiously for a priest and where for many years,
feeling the lack of a priest, they have not ceased to pray for one to
arrive. I know that among you there are confrères who have had
with difficult times and situations, adopting positions that cannot
always be condoned from an ecclesial point of view and who, despite
everything, want to return to full communion with the Church. In the
spirit of that profound reconciliation to which my venerable
predecessor repeatedly invited the Church in China, I turn now to
the Bishops who are in communion with the Successor of Peter, so that
with a paternal spirit they may evaluate these questions case by case
and give a just response to that desire, having recourse -- if
necessary -- to the Apostolic See. And, as a sign of this desired
reconciliation, I think that there is no gesture more significant than
that of renewing as a community -- on the occasion of the priestly day
of Holy Thursday, as happens in the universal Church, or on another
occasion that might be considered more opportune -- the profession of
faith, as a witness to the full communion attained, for the edification
of the Holy People of God entrusted to your pastoral care, and to the
praise of the Most Holy Trinity.
Furthermore, I realize that in China too, as in the rest
of the Church, the need for an adequate ongoing formation of the clergy
is emerging. Hence the invitation, addressed to you Bishops as leaders
of ecclesial communities, to think especially of the young clergy who
are increasingly subject to new pastoral challenges, linked to the
demands of the task of evangelizing a society as complex as present-day
Chinese society. Pope John Paul II reminded us of this: ongoing
formation of priests "is an intrinsic requirement of the gift and
sacramental ministry received; and it proves necessary in every age. It
is particularly urgent today, not only because of rapid changes in the
social and cultural conditions of individuals and peoples among whom
priestly ministry is exercised, but also because of that 'new
evangelization' which constitutes the essential and pressing task of
the Church at the end of the second millennium''.
Vocations and religious formation
14. During the last fifty years, the Church in China has
never lacked an abundant flowering of vocations to the priesthood and
to consecrated life. For this we must thank the Lord, because it is a
sign of vitality and a reason for hope. Moreover, in the course of the
years, many indigenous religious congregations have emerged: Bishops
and priests know from experience what an indispensable contribution
women religious make to catechesis and to parish life in all its forms;
moreover, care for the most needy, offered in cooperation with the
local civil authorities, is an expression of that charity and service
of neighbour that are the most credible witness of the power and
vitality of the Gospel of Jesus.
I am aware, however, that this flowering is accompanied,
today, by not a few difficulties. The need therefore emerges both for
more careful vocational discernment on the part of Church leaders, and
for more in-depth education and instruction of aspirants to the
priesthood and religious life. Notwithstanding the precariousness of
the means available, for the future of the Church in China it will be
necessary to take steps to ensure, on the one hand, particular
attention in the care of vocations and, on the other hand, a more solid
formation with regard to the human, spiritual,
philosophical-theological and pastoral aspects, to be carried out in
seminaries and religious institutes.
In this regard, the formation for celibacy of candidates
for the priesthood deserves particular mention. It is important that
they learn to live and to esteem celibacy as a precious gift from God
and as an eminently eschatological sign which bears witness to an
undivided love for God and for his people, and configures the priest to
Jesus Christ, Head and Bridegroom of the Church. This gift, in fact, in
an outstanding way "expresses the priest's service to the Church in and
with the Lord''  and has a prophetic value for today's world.
As for the religious vocation, in the present context of
the Church in China it is necessary that its two dimensions be seen
ever more clearly: namely, on the one hand, the witness of the charism
of total consecration to Christ through the vows of chastity, poverty
and obedience, and on the other hand, the response to the demand to
proclaim the Gospel in the socio- historical circumstances of the
The Lay Faithful and the Family
15. In the most difficult periods of the recent history of
the Catholic Church in China, the lay faithful, both as individuals and
families and as members of spiritual and apostolic movements, have
shown total fidelity to the Gospel, even paying a personal price for
their faithfulness to Christ. My dear lay people, you are called, today
too, to incarnate the Gospel in your lives and to bear witness to it by
means of generous and effective service for the good of the people and
for the development of the country: and you will accomplish this
mission by living as honest citizens and by operating as active and
responsible co-workers in spreading the word of God to those around
you, in the country or in the city. You who in recent times have been
courageous witnesses of the faith, must remain the hope of the Church
for the future! This demands from you an ever more engaged
participation in all areas of Church life, in communion with your
Since the future of humanity passes by way of the family,
I consider it indispensable and urgent that lay people should promote
family values and safeguard the needs of the family. Lay people, whose
faith enables them to know God's marvellous design for the family, have
an added reason to assume this concrete and demanding task: the family
in fact "is the normal place where the young grow to personal and
social maturity. It is also the bearer of the heritage of humanity
itself, because through the family, life is passed on from generation
to generation. The family occupies a very important place in Asian
cultures; and, as the Synod Fathers noted, family values like filial
respect, love and care for the aged and the sick, love of children and
harmony are held in high esteem in all Asian cultures and religious
The above-mentioned values form part of the relevant
Chinese cultural context, but also in your land there is no lack of
forces that influence the family negatively in various ways. Therefore
the Church which is in China, aware that the good of society and her
own good are profoundly linked to the good of the family, must have
a keener and more urgent sense of her mission to proclaim to all people
God's plan for marriage and the family, ensuring the full vitality of
Christian initiation of adults
16. The recent history of the Catholic Church in China has
seen a large number of adults coming to the faith, thanks partly to the
witness of the local Christian community. You, Pastors, are called to
devote particular care to their Christian initiation via an appropriate
and serious period of catechumenate aimed at helping them and preparing
them to lead the life of Jesus' disciples.
In this regard, I would mention that evangelization is
never purely intellectual communication, but rather includes experience
of life, purification and transformation of the whole of existence, and
a journey in communion. Only in this way is a proper relationship
established between thought and life.
Looking then to the past, it is unfortunately the case
that many adults have not always been sufficiently initiated into the
complete truth of Christian life and have not even known the richness
of the renewal brought by the Second Vatican Council. It therefore
seems necessary and urgent to offer them a solid and thorough Christian
formation, in the shape of a post-baptismal catechumenate.[
The missionary vocation
17. The Church, always and everywhere missionary, is
called to proclaim and to bear witness to the Gospel. The Church in
China must also sense in her heart the missionary ardour of her Founder
Addressing young pilgrims on the Mount of the Beatitudes
in the Holy Year 2000, John Paul II said: "At the moment of his
Ascension, Jesus gave his disciples a mission and this reassurance:
'All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore,
and make disciples of all nations ... and behold, I am with you always,
until the end of the age' (Mt 28:18-20). For two-thousand years
Christ's followers have carried out this mission. Now, at the dawn of
the third millennium, it is your turn. It is your turn to go out into
the world to preach the message of the Ten Commandments and the
Beatitudes. When God speaks, he speaks of things which have the
greatest importance for each person, for the people of the twenty-first
century no less than those of the first century. The Ten Commandments
and the Beatitudes speak of truth and goodness, of grace and freedom:
of all that is necessary to enter into Christ's Kingdom''.
Now it is your turn, Chinese disciples of the Lord, to be
courageous apostles of that Kingdom. I am sure that your response will
be most generous.
Revocation of faculties and of pastoral directives
18. Considering in the first place some positive
developments of the situation of the Church in China, and in the second
place the increased opportunities and greater ease in communication,
and finally the requests sent to Rome by various Bishops and priests, I
hereby revoke all the faculties previously granted in order to address
particular pastoral necessities that emerged in truly difficult times.
Let the same be applied to all directives of a pastoral
nature, past and recent. The doctrinal principles that inspired them
now find a new application in the directives contained herein.
A day of prayer for the Church in China
19. Dear Pastors and all the faithful, the date 24 May
could in the future become an occasion for the Catholics of the whole
world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China. This
day is dedicated to the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of
Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Marian Shrine
of Sheshan in Shanghai.
I would like that date to be kept by you as a day of
prayer for the Church in China. I encourage you to celebrate it by
renewing your communion of faith in Jesus our Lord and of faithfulness
to the Pope, and by praying that the unity among you may become ever
deeper and more visible. I remind you, moreover, of the commandment
that Jesus gave us, to love our enemies and to pray for those who
persecute us, as well as the invitation of the Apostle Saint Paul:
''First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers,
intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all
who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life,
godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable
in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to
come to the knowledge of the truth'' (1 Tim 2:1-4).
On that same day, the Catholics of the whole world -- in
particular those who are of Chinese origin -- will demonstrate their
fraternal solidarity and solicitude for you, asking the Lord of history
for the gift of perseverance in witness, in the certainty that your
sufferings past and present for the Holy Name of Jesus and your
intrepid loyalty to his Vicar on earth will be rewarded, even if at
times everything can seem a failure.
20. At the conclusion of this Letter I pray that you, dear
Pastors of the Catholic Church which is in China, priests, consecrated
persons and lay faithful, may "rejoice, though now for a little while
you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your
faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by
fire, may redound to praise and glory and honour at the revelation of
Jesus Christ'' (1 Pet 1:6-7).
May Mary Most Holy, Mother of the Church and Queen of
China, who at the hour of the Cross patiently awaited the morning of
the Resurrection in the silence of hope, accompany you with maternal
solicitude and intercede for all of you, together with Saint Joseph and
the countless Holy Martyrs of China.
I assure you of my constant prayers and, with affectionate
remembrance of the elderly, the sick, the children and young people of
your noble Nation, I bless you from my heart.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 27 May, the Solemnity
of Pentecost, in the year 2007, the third of my Pontificate.
* * *
 Benedict XVI, Angelus of 26 December 2006: "With
special spiritual closeness, I also think of those Catholics who
maintain their fidelity to the See of Peter without ceding to
compromises, sometimes at the price of grave sufferings. The whole
Church admires their example and prays that they will have the strength
to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are the fount of victory,
even if at that moment they can seem a failure''. L'Osservatore Romano,
English edition, 3 January 2007, p. 12.
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 10.
 Message to the participants of the International
Convention ''Matteo Ricci: for a dialogue between China and the West''
(24 October 2001), 4: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 31 October
2001, p. 3.
 Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
"Ecclesia in Asia" (6 November 1999), 7: AAS 92 (2000), 456.
 Cf. ibid., 19, 20: AAS 92 (2000), 477-482.
 Cf. Address to members of the Federation of Asian
Bishops' Conferences (Manila, 15 January 1995), 11: L'Osservatore
Romano, English edition, 25 January 1995, p. 6.
 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio
Ineunte" (6 January 2001), 1: AAS 93 (2001), 266.
 Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 23 August
2006), L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 30 August 2006, p. 3.
 John Paul II, Message to the participants of the
International Convention ''Matteo Ricci: for a dialogue between China
and the West'' (24 October 2001), 6: L'Osservatore Romano, English
edition, 31 October 2001, pp. 3-4.
 Cf. Fonti Ricciane, ed. Pasquale M. D'Elia, S.J.,
vol. 2, Rome 1949, no. 617, p. 152.
 Message to the participants of the International
Convention ''Matteo Ricci: for a dialogue between China and the West''
(24 October 2001), 4: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 31 October
2001, p. 3.
 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World "Gaudium et Spes," 76.
 Encyclical Letter "Deus Caritas Est" (25 December
2005), 28: AAS 98 (2006), 240. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council,
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et
 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium," 26.
 Ibid., 23.
 Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the
Church understood as Communion "Communionis Notio" (28 May 1992),
11-14: AAS 85 (1993), 844-847.
 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium," 23.
 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to
the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church
understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 13: AAS 85
 See also Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" (22 February 2007), 6: ''The
Church's faith is essentially a eucharistic faith, and it is especially
nourished at the table of the Eucharist. Faith and the sacraments are
two complementary aspects of ecclesial life. Awakened by the preaching
of God's word, faith is nourished and grows in the grace-filled
encounter with the Risen Lord which takes place in the sacraments:
'faith is expressed in the rite, while the rite reinforces and
strengthens faith.' For this reason, the Sacrament of the Altar is
always at the heart of the Church's life: 'thanks to the Eucharist, the
Church is reborn ever anew!' The more lively the eucharistic faith of
the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in
steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his
disciples. The Church's very history bears witness to this. Every great
reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the
Lord's eucharistic presence among his people''.
 Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte" (6 January
2001), 42: AAS 93 (2001), 296. See also Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter
"Deus Caritas Est" (25 December 2005), 12: "Divine activity now takes
on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in
search of the 'stray sheep', a suffering and lost humanity. When Jesus
speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep,
of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to
meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they
constitute an explanation of his very being and activity. His death on
the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in
which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is
love in its most radical form'': AAS 98 (2006), 228.
 Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 5 April
2006): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 11.
 The lived experience of the ancient Church in time of
persecution should be a source of enlightenment for all, as should the
teaching given on this matter by the Church of Rome herself. Rome
rejected the rigorist positions of the Novatians and the Donatists, and
appealed for a generous attitude of pardon and reconciliation towards
those who had apostatized during the persecutions (the "lapsi''), and
wished to be readmitted to the communion of the Church.
 John Paul II, Message to the Catholic community in
China Alla Vigilia (8 December 1999), 6: L'Osservatore Romano, English
edition, 15 December 1999, p. 5.
 Cf. Mt 4:8-10; Jn 6:15.
 Cf. Is 42:1-4.
 Cf. Jn 18:37.
 Cf. Mt 26:51-53; Jn 18:36.
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on
Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae, 11.
 Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 5 April
2006): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 11.
Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 28.
 Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 5 April
2006): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 11.
 Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
174. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 857 and 869.
 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Apostolos Suos (21 May
1998), 10: AAS 90 (1998), 648.
 Cf. Code of Canon Law, c. 447.
 Statutes of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic
Association (CCPA), 2004, art. 3.
 Homily for the Jubilee of Bishops (8 October 2000),
5: AAS 93 (2001), 28. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on
the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church "Christus Dominus," 6.
 Ibid., 27.
 Benedict XVI, Address to new Bishops (21 September
2006): AAS 98 (2006), 696.
 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 21. Cf. also Code of Canon
Law, c. 375 § 2.
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium",
22. Cf. also "Preliminary Explanatory Note'', No. 2.
 China Catholic Bishops' College (CCBC).
 At the universal level, see, for example, the
provisions of art. 18, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights of 16 December 1966 ("Everyone shall have
the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right
shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his
choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others
and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in
worship, observance, practice and teaching'') and the interpretation,
binding for Member States, given to it by the Human Rights Committee of
the United Nations in "General Comment 22'' (paragraph 4) of 30 July
1993 ("the practice and teaching of religion or belief includes acts
integral to the conduct by religious groups of their basic affairs,
such as freedom to choose their religious leaders, priests and
teachers, the freedom to establish seminaries or religious schools and
the freedom to prepare and distribute religious texts or
At the regional level, then, see, for example, the
following commitments, assumed at the Vienna Meeting of the
Representatives of States participating in the Conference on Security
and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE): "In order to ensure the freedom of
the individual to profess and practise religion or belief, the
participating States will, inter alia ... respect the right of these
religious communities to ... organize themselves according to their own
hierarchical and institutional structure ... select, appoint and
replace their personnel in accordance with their respective
requirements and standards as well as with any freely accepted
arrangement between them and their State''. (Concluding Document of
1989, Principle No. 16 of the Section 'Questions relating to Security
in Europe''). Cf. also Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration
on Religious Liberty "Dignitatis Humanae," 4.
 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on the
Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church "Christus Dominus," 20.
See, in this regard, the relevant norms of the Code of
Canon Law (cf. c. 378).
 Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium,"
Cf. Code of Canon Law, cc. 265-272.
 For a reflection on the doctrine and spirituality of
the priest and on the charism of celibacy, I refer to my address to the
Roman Curia (22 December 2006): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition,
3 January 2007, p. 6.
 Cf. John Paul II, Message to the Church which is in
China on the Seventieth Anniversary of the Ordination in Rome of the
First Group of Chinese Bishops and on the Fiftieth Anniversary of the
Institution of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy in China La Memoria
Liturgica (3 December 1996), 4: AAS 89 (1997), 256.
 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo
Vobis (25 March 1992), 70: AAS 84 (1992), 782.
 Ibid., 29: AAS 84 (1992), 704.
 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
"Ecclesia in Asia" (6 November 1999), 46: AAS 92 (2000), 521. Cf.
Benedict XVI, Address at Fifth World Meeting of Families in Spain
(Valencia, 8 July 2006): ''The family is a necessary good for peoples,
an indispensable foundation for society and a great and lifelong
treasure for couples. It is a unique good for children, who are meant
to be the fruit of the love, of the total and generous self-giving of
their parents. To proclaim the whole truth about the family based on
marriage as a domestic Church and a sanctuary of life, is a great
responsibility incumbent upon all ... Christ has shown us what is
always the supreme source of our life and thus of the lives of
families: 'This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have
loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life
for one's friends' (Jn 15:12-13). The love of God himself has been
poured out upon us in Baptism. Consequently, families are called to
experience this same kind of love, for the Lord makes it possible for
us, through our human love, to be sensitive, loving and merciful like
Christ'': AAS 98 (2006), 591-592.
 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 47.
 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris
Consortio" (22 November 1981), 3: AAS 74 (1982), 84.
 As the Synod Fathers of the Seventh Ordinary Assembly
of the Synod of Bishops observed (1-30 October 1987), in the formation
of Christians "a post-baptismal catechesis in the form of a
catechumenate can also be helpful by presenting again some elements
from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults with the purpose of
allowing a person to grasp and live the immense, extraordinary richness
and responsibility received at Baptism'': John Paul II, Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation "Christifideles Laici" (30 December 1988), 61:
AAS 81 (1989), 514. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1230-1231.
 Homily on the Mount of the Beatitudes (Israel, 24
March 2000), 5: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 29 March 2000,
© Copyright 2007 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Note on Letter to China's Catholics
"Sure Guidance for Pastoral Activity in
Years to Come"
JULY 1, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a
Vatican translation of the explanatory note released Saturday by the
Vatican with the publication of Benedict XVI's letter to the Catholics
* * *
"Letter to Bishops, Priests, Consecrated
Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the People's
Republic of China"
By his "Letter to Bishops, Priests,
Consecrated Persons and Lay Faithful of the Catholic Church in the
People's Republic of China", which bears the date of Pentecost Sunday,
Pope Benedict XVI wishes to express his love for and his closeness to
the Catholics who live in China. He does so, obviously, as Successor of
Peter and Universal Pastor of the Church.
From the text two basic thoughts are
clear: on the one hand, the Pope's deep affection for the entire
Catholic community in China and, on the other, his passionate fidelity
to the great values of the Catholic tradition in the ecclesiological
field; hence, a passion for charity and a passion for the truth. The
Pope recalls the great ecclesiological principles of the Second Vatican
Council and the Catholic tradition, but at the same time takes into
consideration particular aspects of the life of the Church in China,
setting them in an ample theological perspective.
A - The Church in China in the last fifty
The Catholic community in China has lived
the past fifty years in an intense way, undertaking a difficult and
painful journey, which not only has deeply marked it but has also
caused it to take on particular characteristics which continue to mark
The Catholic community suffered an initial
persecution in the 1950s, which witnessed the expulsion of foreign
Bishops and missionaries, the imprisonment of almost all Chinese
clerics and the leaders of the various lay movements, the closing of
churches and the isolation of the faithful. Then, at the end of the
1950s, various state bodies were established, such as the Office for
Religious Affairs and the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics,
with the aim of directing and "controlling" all religious activity. In
1958 the first two episcopal ordinations without papal mandate took
place, initiating a long series of actions which deeply damaged
In the decade 1966-1976, the Cultural
Revolution, which took place throughout the country, violently affected
the Catholic community, striking even those Bishops, priests and lay
faithful who had shown themselves more amenable to the new orientations
imposed by government authorities.
In the 1980s, with the gestures of
openness promoted by Deng Xiaoping, there began a period of religious
tolerance with some possibility of movement and dialogue, which led to
the reopening of churches, seminaries and religious houses, and to a
certain revival of community life. The information coming from
communities of the Catholic Church in China confirmed that the blood of
the martyrs had once again been the seed of new Christians: the faith
had remained alive in the communities; the majority of Catholics had
given fervent witness of fidelity to Christ and the Church; families
had become the key to the transmission of the faith to their members.
The new climate, however, provoked different reactions within the
In this regard, the Pope notes that some
Pastors, "not wishing to be subjected to undue control exercised over
the life of the Church, and eager to maintain total fidelity to the
Successor of Peter and to Catholic doctrine, have felt themselves
constrained to opt for clandestine consecration" to ensure a pastoral
service to their own communities (No. 8). In fact, as the Holy Father
makes clear, "the clandestine condition is not a normal feature of the
Church's life, and history shows that Pastors and faithful have
recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the
integrity of their faith and to resist interference from State agencies
in matters pertaining intimately to the Church's life" (ibid.).
Others, who were especially concerned with
the good of the faithful and with an eye to the future "have consented
to receive episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, but
have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the
Successor of Peter and with their other brothers in the episcopate"
(ibid.). The Pope, in consideration of the complexity of the situation
and being deeply desirous of promoting the re-establishment of full
communion, granted many of them "full and legitimate exercise of
Attentively analyzing the situation of the
Church in China, Benedict XVI is aware of the fact that the community
is suffering internally from a situation of conflict in which both
faithful and Pastors are involved. He emphasizes, however, that this
painful situation was not brought about by different doctrinal
positions but is the result of the "the significant part played by
entities that have been imposed as the principal determinants of the
life of the Catholic community" (No. 7). These are entities, whose
declared purposes -- in particular, the aim of implementing the
principles of independence, self-government and self-management of the
Church -- are not reconcilable with Catholic doctrine. This
interference has given rise to seriously troubling situations. What is
more, Bishops and priests have been subjected to considerable
surveillance and coercion in the exercise of their pastoral office.
In the 1990s, from many quarters and with
increasing frequency, Bishops and priests turned to the Congregation
for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Secretariat of State in order
to obtain from the Holy See precise instructions as to how they should
conduct themselves with regard to some problems of ecclesial life in
China. Many asked what attitude should be adopted toward the government
and toward state agencies in charge of Church life. Other queries
concerned strictly sacramental problems, such as the possibility of
concelebrating with Bishops who had been ordained without papal mandate
or of receiving the sacraments from priests ordained by these Bishops.
Finally, the legitimizing of numerous Bishops who had been illicitly
consecrated confused some sectors of the Catholic community.
In addition, the law on registering places
of worship and the state requirement of a certificate of membership in
the Patriotic Association gave rise to fresh tensions and further
During these years, Pope John Paul II on
several occasions addressed messages and appeals to the Church in
China, calling all Catholics to unity and reconciliation. The
interventions of the Holy Father were well received, creating a desire
for unity, but sadly the tensions with the authorities and within the
Catholic community did not diminish.
For its part, the Holy See has provided
directives regarding the various problems, but the passage of time and
the rise of new situations of increasing complexity required a
reconsideration of the overall question in order to provide the
clearest answer possible to the queries and to issue sure guidance for
pastoral activity in years to come.
B - The history of the Papal Letter
The various problems which seem to have
most seriously affected the life of the Church in China in recent years
were amply and carefully analyzed by a special select Commission made
up of some experts on China and members of the Roman Curia who follow
the situation of that community. When Pope Benedict XVI decided to call
a meeting from 19-20 January 2007 during which various ecclesiastics,
including some from China, took part, the aforementioned Commission
worked to produce a document aimed at ensuring broad discussion on the
various points, gathering practical recommendations made by the
participants and proposing some possible theological and pastoral
guidelines for the Catholic community in China. His Holiness, who
graciously took part in the final session of the meeting, decided,
among other things, to address a Letter to the Bishops, priests,
consecrated persons and lay faithful.
C - Content of the Letter
"Without claiming to deal with every
detail of the complex matters well known to you", writes Benedict XVI
to the Catholics of China, "I wish through this letter to offer some
guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of
evangelization in China, in order to help you discover what the Lord
and Master Jesus Christ wants from you" (No. 2). The Pope reiterates
some fundamental principles of Catholic ecclesiology in order to
clarify the more important problems, aware that the light shed by these
principles will provide assistance in dealing with the various
questions and the more concrete aspects of the life of the Catholic
While expressing great joy for the
fidelity demonstrated by the faithful in China over the past fifty
years, Benedict XVI reaffirms the inestimable value of their sufferings
and of the persecution endured for the Gospel, and he directs to all an
earnest appeal for unity and reconciliation. Since he is aware of the
fact that full reconciliation "cannot be accomplished overnight", he
recalls that this path "of reconciliation is supported by the example
and the prayer of so many 'witnesses of faith' who have suffered and
have forgiven, offering their lives for the future of the Catholic
Church in China" (No. 6).
In this context, the words of Jesus, "Duc
in altum" (Luke 5:4), continue to ring true. This is an expression
which invites "us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the
present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with
confidence". In China, as indeed in the rest of the world, "the Church
is called to be a witness of Christ, to look forward with hope, and --
in proclaiming the Gospel -- to measure up to the new challenges that
the Chinese people must face" (No. 3). "In your country too" the Pope
states, "the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen will be
possible to the extent that, with fidelity to the Gospel, in communion
with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and with the universal Church,
you are able to put into practice the signs of love and unity" (ibid.).
In dealing with some of the more urgent
problems which emerge from the queries which have reached the Holy See
from Bishops and priests, Benedict XVI offers guidance regarding the
recognition of ecclesiastics of the clandestine community by the
government authorities (cf. No. 7) and he gives much prominence to the
subject of the Chinese Episcopate (cf. No. 8), with particular
reference to matters surrounding the appointment of Bishops (cf. No.
9). Of special significance are the pastoral directives which the Holy
Father gives to the community, which emphasize in the first place the
figure and mission of the Bishop in the diocesan community: "nothing
without the Bishop". In addition, he provides guidance for Eucharistic
concelebration and he encourages the creation of diocesan bodies laid
down by canonical norms. He does not fail to give directions for the
training of priests and family life.
As for the relationship of the Catholic
community to the State, Benedict XVI in a serene and respectful way
recalls Catholic doctrine, formulated anew by the Second Vatican
Council. He then expresses the sincere hope that the dialogue between
the Holy See and the Chinese government will make progress so as to be
able to reach agreement on the appointment of Bishops, obtain the full
exercise of the faith by Catholics as a result of respect for genuine
religious freedom and arrive at the normalization of relations between
the Holy See and the Beijing Government.
Finally, the Pope revokes all the earlier
and more recent faculties and directives of a pastoral nature which had
been granted by the Holy See to the Church in China. The changed
circumstances of the overall situation of the Church in China and the
greater possibilities of communication now enable Catholics to follow
the general canonical norms and, where necessary, to have recourse to
the Apostolic See. In any event, the doctrinal principles which
inspired the above-mentioned faculties and directives now find fresh
application in the directives contained in the present Letter (cf. No.
D - Tone and outlook of the Letter
With spiritual concern and using an
eminently pastoral language, Benedict XVI addresses the entire Church
in China. His intention is not to create situations of harsh
confrontation with particular persons or groups: even though he
expresses judgments on certain critical situations, he does so with
great understanding for the contingent aspects and the persons
involved, while upholding the theological principles with great
clarity. The Pope wishes to invite the Church to a deeper fidelity to
Jesus Christ and he reminds all Chinese Catholics of their mission to
be evangelizers in the present specific context of their country. The
Holy Father views with respect and deep sympathy the ancient and recent
history of the great Chinese people and once again declares himself
ready to engage in dialogue with the Chinese authorities in the
awareness that normalization of the life of the Church in China
presupposes frank, open and constructive dialogue with these
authorities. Furthermore, Benedict XVI, like his Predecessor John Paul
II before him, is firmly convinced that this normalization will make an
incomparable contribution to peace in the world, thus adding an
irreplaceable piece to the great mosaic of peaceful coexistence among