ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
Updated: October 24, 2017 05:06 AM GMT
Bishop Stephen Lee (first row on the left) and Bishop Ma Yinglin pray together in the chapel of the national seminary in Beijing, May 30. (Photo supplied)
The first visit of Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang of Macau to Beijing — since his appointment in January 2016 as head of the diocese — has been largely downplayed by religious officials in the the Chinese capital.
Bishop Lee led a 12-member delegation to visit three seminaries, two churches, two primary schools and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) in Beijing and neighboring Hebei province from May 29 to June 2.
Arriving at the national seminary May 30, Bishop Lee was received by Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, the president of the bishops' conference, vice chair of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), and rector of the seminary. The Vatican does not recognize either the two government-sanctioned church bodies or Bishop Ma who was ordained without papal mandate.
Portuguese and English language reports in O Clarim name Bishop Ma as "rector" of the seminary while the Chinese report address him by the official title of "bishop" but without indicating that he was ordained without papal mandate. O Clarim is a Macau diocesan weekly published in Chinese, English and Portuguese.
Bishop Ma also received a Vatican delegation in 2015 at the national seminary after negotiations that took place between China and the Vatican. The delegation comprised representatives from the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
The SARA report made only a brief mention of the visit saying Bishop Lee and Chen Zhongrong, vice director of SARA, "exchanged views on the development of the Catholic Church in Macau and the promotion of Catholic exchanges between the two places."
A Catholic commentator in China, who asked not to be named, said a one-paragraph report by the SARA was "playing down the visit of Bishop Lee" due to his views on the Catholic Church in China.
"The one paragraph report with only two sentences shows that the SARA was giving a cold shoulder to Bishop Lee, who said in an earlier interview that the CCPA and the other government-controlled church organizations go against a China-Vatican agreement because of money and job prospects," said the commentator.
Bishop Lee, a member of Opus Dei who wrote a doctoral thesis on China-Vatican relations, told ucanews.com that the details of the Beijing visit could be found in the June 9 issue of O Clarim and that he had nothing to add.
According to O Clarim, the delegation's visit aimed to learn more about the state of seminary formation, pastoral care, parish work and educational activities of the church on the mainland, and to "promote mutual understanding and exchange."
The delegation visited major churches in Beijing and met Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing, who is approved by the government and the Vatican. Bishop Li invited the Macau bishop to visit again when the Diocesan Curia moved to the Church of the Savior, also known as the North Cathedral by the end of the year.
Macau, a former colony of Portugal, was the base for the first diocese created in the Far East in modern times in 1576. The territory was returned to China as a special administrative region in 1999.