BY DAVID V BARRETT
POPE BENEDICT XVI greeted a group of Chinese priests “with particular affection” last week, in what is thought to be the first time a Pope has publicly welcomed priests from the state-run Chinese Catholic Church.
The 28 Chinese priests included seminary teachers and administrators who were visiting Rome after attending a course for a week in Germany. They sat in the front row of a general audience in the Vatican’s audience hall.
“I greet with particular affection the group of priests from China,” said the Pope in English. The priests then stood, sang a hymn, and clapped the Pope, who said, “Thank you and God bless you,” before moving on to the next group of people.
According to the AsiaNews service, the priests were from the government-approved Church, which reportedly has around 1,000 students training for the priesthood, while the “underground” Church has about 800 seminarians.
Relations between the Vatican and China have been strained for many years, since the Chinese Communist government insisted on the right to appoint bishops and priests. Officially the Vatican does not recognise their ordi nations as valid. Instead, millions of Chinese Catholics worship in underground churches, facing harassment and sometimes persecution from the state.
In recent years there have been signs of a rapprochement. Pope John Paul II is believed to have secretly accepted a number of stateappointed bishops as valid. Since his election in April there have been indications that Pope Benedict is keen to improve relations with Beijing. Last month a new auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai was ordained, with the understanding that he would take over from both the official and the underground bishops, who are both very elderly.
But persecution of Catholics in China continues. At the end of July police arrested a priest, a seminarian and nine parishioners who had been celebrating Mass for a parishioner suffering from cancer in a private home in the south-eastern province of Fujian.
Parishioners who tried to prevent the arrest of Fr Lin Daixian were beaten by the police, suffering broken bones and teeth, according to the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation.
This is the fourth time the Chinese government has arrested Fr Lin.