Vatican hopes for better ties as Beijing bishop ordained

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2007, 12:00am

Li Shan is first mutually recognised bishop in 50 years

The Vatican last night expressed hope the ordination of Beijing Bishop Joseph Li Shan would lead to new understanding between the Holy See and mainland authorities that could help resolve their disputes.

Bishop Li was chosen by Beijing, with the approval of the Vatican.

Despite the optimism over improved relations, officials of the state-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association insisted the appointment and ordination of bishops on the mainland was an internal matter.

Bishop Li is the capital's first mutually recognised bishop in almost 50 years.

In an article in the Holy See's official L'Osservatore Romano newspaper published yesterday, the Vatican confirmed that Bishop Li had received papal approval. The bishop has strong pastoral experience and is well regarded by the Holy See.

It also confirmed that Bishop Paul Xiao Zejiang of Guizhou, who was ordained earlier this month, had similarly been recognised by Pope Benedict.

Following these ordinations, the article said, 'there immediately arises the hope that all diocese can have worthy and suitable shepherds capable of living in full communion with the Catholic Church ... and announcing the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Chinese People'.

Citing a letter the Pope sent to mainland Catholics in June, the article said that with 'respectful and open dialogue' with Beijing and the mainland church, hopefully the difficulties two sides faced 'may be overcome, and thus a fruitful understanding may be reached that will prove beneficial to the Catholic community and to social cohesion'.

Without naming anyone, the article also 'expressed sadness' over the participation in yesterday's ordination of Bishop Ma Yinglin of Kunming and Bishop Jin Daoyuan of Changzhi, who were unilaterally ordained by Beijing without Vatican approval.

Bishop Ma also took part in Bishop Xiao's ordination earlier this month.

Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Patriotic Association, and Father Sun Shangen , of Bishop Li's cathedral, played down the importance of the reported papal approval.

'China does not have official diplomatic relations with the Vatican and our church has no formal communication channel [with the Holy See],' Father Sun said.

'We simply appoint and ordain the new bishop following the same approach we have adopted over the past 50 years in accordance with our own situation,' he said.

'We expect that we will have the understanding of the Vatican once ties are normalised.'

On the Vatican's favourable assessment of Bishop Li, Mr Liu said: 'It is conducive to the further improvement of the bilateral ties, and I hope we can move forward and never back off.'

More than 1,000 people including other bishops, priests, parishioners and government officials attended yesterday's ordination ceremony, held at the 400-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, also known as South Cathedral, in Beijing.

The two-hour Mass was presided over by Bishop Fang Xingyao of Linyi diocese, with bishops of other major dioceses in China as concelebrants, including bishops Ma Yinglin, Yu Runshen of Hanzhong, Jin Daoyuan and Zhang Hanmin of Jilin.

Coadjutor bishop of Liaoning, Paolo Pei Junmin and the coadjutor bishop of Tangshan, Fang Jianping were also among the celebrants.

All except Bishop Ma and Bishop Jin were approved by the Vatican.

Security was tight around the church. Overseas reporters and parishioners who did not have the pre-issued tickets were barred from the ceremony.

Bishop Li, 42, also a vice-chairman of the Beijing Church Affairs Committee and a deputy to the capital's Municipal People's Congress, replaced Michael Fu Tieshan, who died in April, as head of the influential diocese.

His predecessor, who served as the chairman of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was unilaterally ordained by Beijing in 1979 without approval from the Vatican.

The ties between Beijing and the Vatican have improved after the election of Pope Benedict, who has made important peace overtures to the mainland.

Mr Liu also said a new chairman of his association would not be elected until a national conference of Catholic clerics, which was under preparation.

'The chance for a meeting this year is rather slim,' he said.