1996-09-18 00:00:00

A Catholic bishop unaffiliated with the government- approved open Church has circulated a letter urging unification of the open and underground Churches, but major obstacles exist in the views of both sides.

Clandestinely ordained Bishop Andrew Han Jingtao told a Hong Kong Catholic source in Jilin province that he had sent a letter to the bishops in both the underground and open Churches throughout the country calling for unification.

Bishop Han spoke with the source Aug. 15 in Changchun, capital of Jilin province, 880 kilometers northeast of Beijing.

In his letter of May 26, Pentecost Sunday, he urged all bishops in China not to review rights and wrongs but to act "to be one flock with one shepherd."

Bishop Han said both Churches should discuss major Church issues, let go of the past and look to the future, and publicly announce their unity as loyal Catholics and loyal Chinese citizens. He said the Churches should not bother about the Catholic Patriotic Association.

He also proposed that a national Catholic bishops´ meeting be summoned to discuss the implementation of post-Second Vatican Council decisions.

No bishops have responded so far, he said, but government officials came to see him three times about the letter, once in June and twice in August.

"Without seeing the Church unified, I will die with a grievance," he said.

Commenting on the letter, government-recognized Bishop Joseph Zong Huaide of Jinan and Zhoucun, president of the Bishops´ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, recognized its good will but was not optimistic about it.

"It is difficult, as the underground Church leaders did not respond to our previous invitations to dialogue," Bishop Zong told UCA News Sept. 12. "This is a political issue, not religious."

Improvement in Beijing-Vatican relations would help promote unification, he said. The government would welcome unification as it would facilitate administration in religious affairs, he added.

Government-recognized Bishop Pius Jin Peixian of Liaoning, having read the letter, told UCA News Sept. 3 that Church unification is a mutual goal, but it can only be realized within the realities of Chinese society.

"There is only one Church in China, and we are of the same faith. Our difference is only in politics," he said.

He added that assaults of the underground Church would only widen the gap.

"The solution is simple. We can unify if they do not oppose us," he said.

As early as 1989, Bishop Han wrote an article entitled "Proposal of a Professor," urging Church unification.

As a result he was accused of being a counterrevolutionary and was taken in for interrogation by Public Security Bureau officials in 1991 and again in November 1995, both for about five hours, he told the source.

He said he met with Jilin´s open Church leaders three times in 1994 and 1995 and again with government-recognized Bishop Jin Peixian Liaoning in May 1995 to discuss the prospect of unification.

The separation in the Catholic Church since 1950 has been imposed by outside forces, said the bishop, who claimed the government to be the primary hurdle for unification, and alleged that it would not like to see a unified Church.

He saw the need to urge lay Catholics´ support Church unification, he added.

Bishop Han, born in 1919, was ordained a priest in 1947 and clandestinely ordained bishop of Siping, Jilin province, in the early 1980s. He was jailed from 1953 to 1980. After his release he taught Latin and Greek culture in Northeast Normal University in Changchun until he retired in 1987.

Beijing severed ties with the Vatican in 1952. Chinese Catholics split over the setting up of the Catholic Patriotic Association in 1957, and the links with the Vatican ceased after some bishops were ordained in China without papal approval in 1958.

In late 1978 the Chinese government restored its religious policy. Jailed clergy and laity were released gradually to resume their Catholic activities.

Since then some Catholics practice openly at government-recognized churches, but others practice privately and ordain bishops and priests clandestinely.

The open Church bishops´ conference was formed in 1980, and the underground Church´s in 1989. In some places Catholics from both sides reconciled, but some remain hostile.


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