Bishops from around the world gathered to address the major issues that face the Roman Catholic Church on Sunday, the opening of the three-week Synod of Bishops, however there were no representatives from China.
55 cardinals, 7 patriarchs, 59 archbishops, 123 bishops, and 81 priests concelebrated with Pope Benedict XVI according to Vatican Information Service (VIS), but the four bishops that were invited from China, so far, have not attended.
The four bishops, Archbishop of Xian Anthony Li Duan, Bishop of Shanghai Aloysius Jin Luxian, Bishop of Fengxiang Like Li Jingfeng, who are recognized by the government, and Bishop of Qiqihar Joseph Wei Jingyi, told the Vatican-affiliated Asia News that they did not receive a passport or a permit to leave the country.
Catholic representatives from Qiqihar told Asia News that government officials said their refusal was due to the relationship between the Vatican and China.
They told Asia News that local authorities said, "everything depends on diplomatic relations…as long as there are no relations, it will be difficult to arrange such visits."
Bishop Jin Luxian said that the difficulties between China and the Vatican arises from misunderstanding. "The government does not understand the Vatican; the Vatican does not understand the Chinese government," he told Asia News.
Officially, the Synod addresses the Eucharist, Holy Communion which was initiated by the Last Supper in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed in remembrance of the crucifixion, but other matters are also discussed.
Priest shortage, dwindling Mass attendance, and whether Holy Communion should be given to Catholic politicians who back abortion rights and to divorced people who remarry without an annulment, are topics that will be addressed this year AP said, meanwhile the Bishops will recommend to the Pontiff how the church should be run.
The Pontiff has made it clear since April that he wants to form a relationship between the Vatican and China. But the Patriotic Association (PA) commented that the Vatican's invitation was "discourteous" because they didn't consult with them, Liu Bainian, vice president and secretary general of PA said according to Asia News, but Ye Xiaown, the director of Religious Affairs considered the Pontiff's invitation as a friendly gesture.
Both Liu and Ye said, according to Asia News that it was difficult to grant permission since there was an invitation for Bishops from mainland China and from Taiwan, which is a problem since the government wants the Vatican to recognize that Taiwan is a part of China.
However, despite this, the Vatican remains hopeful. Monsignor Nikola Eterovic, the general secretary of the Synod said, "We remain open to receiving them, even until the last day," he told AP.
The relationship between the Vatican and China have been severed since 1951 when the Communist Party took control of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches. Any churches and congregations that do not follow the government-sanctioned guidelines are labeled unofficial and face persecution.
The theme for this year's Synod is "The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church."