New pope will need to handle China with care
Catholics in China say they want to see the new pope maintain the approach to their Church followed by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
During his pontificate, Benedict underlined his respect for the distinctive character and history of the Church in China but emphasized the necessary conditions for remaining in full communion with the Universal Church.
“I want the new pope to continue in the spirit of his two predecessors, tackling the different problems of the Church in China bravely and wisely,” said Bishop Joseph Gan Junqiu of Guangzhou, southern Guangdong province.
The prelate, who is in his late 40s, is recognized by both the Vatican and the Chinese government.
Clergy and laypeople in China supported the Guangzhou bishop, saying they hope the new pope will promote normalization of the Church life in China while sticking to the principle of the Church’s universality.
Father John Baptist Luo of Mindong in southeastern Fujian province says he hopes a new pontiff will cleanse the Church from within.
The priest-blogger wants the pope not to compromise its principles with Beijing for the sake of a hasty establishment of diplomatic ties.
“Saying no is not hostility but true love,” he said. “Though it will take a long time, sticking to our Catholic principles will help China’s religious policies to grow, to become more mature and open, and at the same time, it brings the China Church back on the right track.”
John Chen believed that Rome is not the crux of Sino-Vatican relations. Beijing is the key, he says. This young Catholic from Wenzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, maintained that relations cannot improve if China does not change its ideology.
“Whoever the new pope is, he can hardly reach an agreement with the Communist regime while still holding firm to the Church’s principles,” Chen said.
He said he had faith in the members of the Vatican’s Commission for the Catholic Church in China and in Chinese Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, Secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples to take the right approach.
“They are familiar with the situation in China,” he said. “The Vatican’s China policy would not change after the new pope takes office.”
On March 1, the day after Benedict retired, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China posted an “important notice” on their official website calling for “clergy and laypeople of the China Church to pray for the health of the resigning pope, as well as the upcoming conclave which will elect the new pope.”
The two government-sanctioned bodies are not recognized by the Vatican.
CCPA chairman, Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyi, said that he hopes the new pope will “adopt a tolerant attitude that helps unite the Universal Church and makes a greater effort for the normalization of Sino-Vatican ties.”
Cardinal John Tong will be the only Chinese in the conclave electing the next pope. While Bishop Gan of Guangzhou described Cardinal Tong as the pride of the Chinese Church, Clare Li, a layperson in Wenzhou diocese has a more casual approach “as Chinese people are also a part of the Church.”
“Although the possibility of a Chinese becoming pope seems low, if that ... comes about, Beijing may be more nervous and thus tighten its control over the Church," says Clare.
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