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Pope Francis: to the Catholics of China, be “agents of reconciliation”

At the end of today’s audience Pope Francis announced a Message to the Catholics of China and to the universal Church, released almost at the same time as he was reading it out loud. The purpose is to dispel all doubts after the publication of the Provisional Agreement signed in Beijing

foto SIR/Marco Calvarese

“I have decided to send a Message of fraternal encouragement to Chinese Catholics and to the whole of the Universal Church, which will be published today”, the Pope announced to 18 thousand faithful present in Saint Peter’s Square before the greetings to Italian-speaking Catholics, which by tradition concludes the Wednesday audience. The Message to Catholics of China and to the Universal Church was released almost at the same time. In the aftermath of the Provisional Agreement with Beijing on the appointment of Bishops and the readmission to full ecclesial communion with the Successor of Peter of the remaining seven “official” bishops ordained without papal mandate, Francis dispels all doubts on the “whirlwind” of rumours spread after the announcement of the Agreement, and called upon Catholics of China to be “agents of reconciliation.”

The Pope’s hope, conveyed already during the audience, is that in China may be initiated “an unprecedented process that we hope will help to heal the wounds of the past, restore full communion among all Chinese Catholics, and lead to a phase of greater fraternal cooperation, in order to renew our commitment to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel” 

The future of Catholic communities in China involves dialogue, Francis pointed out, specifying that with the Provisional Agreement “the Holy See has desired – and continues to desire – only to attain the Church’s specific spiritual and pastoral aims.” Thus “precisely for the sake of supporting and promoting the preaching of the Gospel in China” and “re-establishing full and visible unity in the Church, it was essential, before all else, to deal with the issue of the appointment of bishops”, the Pope said, without failing to mention the “deep and painful tensions, hurts and divisions”, that in the Continent “centred especially on the figure of the bishop.”

The phenomenon of clandestinity “is not a normal part of the life of the Church”,

Francis pointed out with regard to “direct control above and beyond the legitimate competence of the State” imposed in China. Then a revelation that dates back to the beginning of the Pontificate: “I have experienced great consolation in knowing the heartfelt desire of Chinese Catholics to live their faith in full communion with the universal Church and with the Successor of Peter, who is ‘the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful’ (Lumen gentium, 23). In these years, I have received numerous concrete signs and testimonies of that desire, including from bishops who have damaged communion in the Church as a result of weakness and errors, but also, and not infrequently, due to powerful and undue pressure from without.” The decision to readmit seven “official” bishops to full communion, the Pope said, has been taken “after carefully examining every individual personal situation, and listening to different points of view, seeking the true good of the Church in China.” Francis called upon the latter to “to express with concrete and visible gestures their restored unity with the Apostolic See and with the Churches spread throughout the world, and to remain faithful despite any difficulties.”

The Pope called upon all Chinese Catholics “to work towards reconciliation” in order to “initiate an unprecedented process that we hope will help to heal the wounds of the past, restore full communion among all Chinese Catholics, and lead to a phase of greater fraternal cooperation, in order to renew our commitment to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel.”

The Provisional Agreement signed with the Chinese authorities, while “capable of improvement”, can contribute to writing this new chapter of the Catholic Church in China” In fact, “for the first time”, the Pope explained, “it sets out stable elements of cooperation between the state authorities and the Apostolic See, in the hope of providing the Catholic community with good shepherds.” A task in which the local Church together with the Holy See, plays an important role: “to join in seeking good candidates capable of taking up in the Church the demanding and important ministry of bishop.”

The second part of the message is addressed to all members of society, civil and ecclesial alike. The Pope calls upon the Catholic Community in China “to be united so as to overcome the divisions of the past that have caused, and continue to cause great suffering in the hearts of many pastors and faithful”, through

“gestures of reconciliation and communion.”

On the social and political planes, Chinese Catholics are encouraged to be “good citizens”, while on the ethical level they are called to make “a prophetic and constructive contribution”, knowing that it may this may also require of them “to offer a word of criticism, not out of sterile opposition, but for the sake of building a society that is more just, humane and respectful of the dignity of each person.”

The bishops, Francis said, are called to “leave behind past conflicts”, in the awareness that “more than bureaucrats and functionaries, the Church needs passionate missionaries”, who stop trying to make their Christian life “a museum of memories” 

Ahead of the Synod, Francis asked young people “to cooperate in building the future of your country” using their ability “to go against the flow.” Finally, the Pope addressed his appeal to the universal Church, that is encouraged to “to accompany our brothers and sisters in China with fervent prayer and fraternal friendship.”

“Each local Catholic community in every part of the world should make an effort to appreciate and integrate the spiritual and cultural treasures proper to Chinese Catholics.”

The message ends with an invitation to “to the leaders of the People’s Republic of China”, “to continue, with trust, courage and farsightedness, the dialogue begun some time ago.” The Pope highlights the importance of “frank dialogue and impartial listening” also on a local level, “so as to overcome antagonism on both sides.”

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