Four Chinese bishops from Mainland China were invited by Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday to attend a meeting of the world's bishops in Vatican, the Associated Press reported. The invitation was said to be symptomatic in the Pope's agenda on Vatican-China reunion.
According to the Associated Press, at least one of the four Chinese invited is a member of the unofficial church, whose named Bishop Wei Jingyi from the northeastern city of Qiqihar. The other three bishops are all from the government-controlled churches, including Antonio Li Duan, Archbishop of Xian, Luigi Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai and Luca Li Jungfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang in Shaanxi province.
The Chinese bishops are invited to attend the Synod to be held on Oct. 2-23 in Rome. 36 members of the synod, including those four from China, will come from all over the world.
The relationship between the Vatican and China has long been broken since 1951 shortly after the Communist Party took power. The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant churches came under the control of the Communist government. Any churches that are loyal to the Pope are prohibited, also the bishops are appointed by the state. All churches or congregation who are not following this system are labeled as unofficial and are subjected to persecution.
Nevertheless, the underground Catholic churches and congregations have been growing very quickly. Pope Benedict XVI, who inherited the ecumenical spirit of the late John Paul II, has repeated his agenda to establish ties with China since April.
Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, a China expert and founder of a Vatican-affiliated news agency AsiaNews, said to the Associated Press Benedict's selections were significant because they showed that "for the Holy See, there is only one church" in China.
The late John Paul II has invited two Chinese bishops from the state-controlled church during a 1998 synod of Asian bishops. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to attend, Rev Cervellera recalled.
He further commented that "the government could make this a big opportunity to show its progress on religious liberty" by allowing the bishops to travel to Rome this time.
The Vatican-affiliated news agency AsiaNews interviewed Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai, on the phone. He was quoted that these nominations "are a sign of the Vatican's friendship towards the Chinese government" and he hopes the government will allow everyone to take part in the Synod.
Bishop Jin Luxian, of the state-controlled church, was recently consecrated. His appointment was approved by both Rome and Beijing at the first time since 1951, according to AP. It showed a renewed relationship between the Vatican and China under the new pope.
Hong Kong Catholic leader Bishop Joseph Zen welcomed the pope's invitation to bishops from the official and underground churches in China, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Friday.
"This obviously shows that the pope really cares about China and that Chinese churches have an important standing in the world," Zen said.
Zen added, "This assembly is for the representatives of bishops from all over the world. China is so big, so it's appropriate to invite [Chinese] bishops to go there. I hope the Chinese government will allow them to go."
Meanwhile, no information is available for whether the Beijing government will approve the bishops to go. If they receive permission, it would be the first time the official and underground Catholic churches in Mainland China were represented at such a meeting, according to AFP.