Catholic Church

Macau well placed to bridge Sino-Vatican gap

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 December, 2006, 12:00am

Training of mainland seminarians in the city will give it a greater role in relations

The Macau Catholic Diocese could become a bridge between the mainland and the universal Catholic Church if a ground-breaking plan to train mainland seminarians in the city is successful, observers say.

The plan, long prepared by Catholic leaders and educators, is expected to be raised today with state leader Liu Yandong , who heads the Communist Party's United Front Department and is visiting Macau.

A Catholic Church source in the city said the Macau Inter-University Institute, which is affiliated with the Catholic University in Portugal, is planning to run a new Christian studies course next September.

The primary target students will be seminarians from the mainland. More than 20 openings will be available in the first year of the course to provide theology training, essential for seminarians before they are ordained.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, of Hong Kong's Holy Spirit Study Centre, said it would be good for relations between Macau and the mainland church if such plans were implemented. 'It will be a very good start if mainland seminarians are allowed to study in Macau. We would be happy to see Beijing have peace of mind on that matter,' he said.

At present, hundreds of mainland seminarians are locally trained in seminaries often criticised for lacking theological and financial resources.

Many are also being trained in Rome, Germany and the Philippines, mostly through unofficial channels. Some go on tourist or work visas because Beijing has tight control over Catholics' links with other countries.

The state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which controls the mainland church, has long been wary of Rome-trained priests, believing they are more liberal-minded and loyal to the Vatican, which is still trying to rebuild diplomatic relations with Beijing.

Unlike the Hong Kong diocese, Macau's has long maintained good relations with Beijing and has been eyeing the chance to take in mainland seminarians.

Church sources said Macau's Bishop Jose Lai Hung-seng and other church leaders and educators were expected to meet Ms Liu this afternoon to discuss the plans.

Bishop Lai met Ms Liu last year during a visit to Beijing, which was hailed as a success in building relations. He also met Ye Xiaowen , director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, in January last year.

Sino-Vatican affairs expert Beatrice Leung Kit-fun, of the institute, said the move would raise the relevance of the Macau diocese in Sino-Vatican relations. 'Now that Beijing is willing to send mainland seminarians, it shows the diocese is trusted and can act as a bridge between the universal church and that on the mainland.'