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Chinese Catholics Gathered for Pope's Memorial Mass in Shanghai

Thousands of Chinese Catholics from both underground churches and official churches attended despite the split and differences between them and the strained relationship that China has with Vatican.
( [email protected] ) Apr 11, 2005 07:14 AM EDT

On Saturday, April 9, a memorial service for John Paul II was held in Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral, the city’s main Catholic Church, where thousands of Chinese Catholics from both underground churches and official churches attended despite the split and differences between them and the strained relationship that China has with Vatican.

During the memorial, Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian stated, “Our pope loved China and loved the Chinese church. “

He also made a reference to the split between state-sanctioned church and official groups that still revere the pope as their leader, “He hoped the Chinese Church would be united and not divided,“ Jin said.

As symbolic funeral bier was laid at the base of the altar, topped with white flowers arranged in the shape of a cross and fronted by a framed photograph of the pontiff. Scores of clergy from the Shanghai diocese were arrayed in white, purple and gold vestments in the choir of the gothic red brick church, built almost 100 years ago by French Jesuits.

Beijing avoided sending an envoy to John Paul's funeral in a spat over the Vatican's relations with China's rival Taiwan.

Yet the death of the pope has united China's Catholics in mourning, at least temporarily fading the differences between official and underground churches and fueling hopes that Beijing might ease its rejection of any ties between believers and Rome.

Churches run by the official China Patriotic Catholic Association, including St. Ignatius, claim 4 million followers. Foreign experts say as many as 12 million more worship in the unofficial churches.

“Our pope hoped to visit China, but for various reasons was unable to," Jin said. "Both we and the pope regretted this."

According to AP, the mass, spoken in Chinese and Latin, concluded with three bows toward the altar — the traditional Chinese sign of respect for the dead — as a brass band played funereal music. Many in the pews, largely elderly but with many young people mixed among them, wiped back tears as Jin sprinkled holy water on the pope's portrait a final time.

On the other hand, Chinese entirely state-controlled media largely ignored news of the pope's funeral, except to carry the Foreign Ministry's complaints to Italy and the Vatican for granting Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian a visa to attend the funeral.

The Vatican is the only European state to have diplomatic relations with self-governing Taiwan, which China claims as a part of its territory.