The Vatican started a two-day review of its troubled policy in China amid strained Chinese-Vatican relations and the Pope’s toughened stance to Beijing.
Amongst those who participated included Hong Kong Cardinal Zen, an outspoken advocate for religious freedom and human rights in China.
"It's about time that people know that we want to be Catholics who are in communion with all the Catholics in the world, under the direction of the bishop of Rome (the pope)," Zen wrote in his diocesan weekly on January 7.
Pope Benedict XVI gave public support for persecuted followers in veiled reference to the estimated 10-million strong underground Catholic church, which remains loyal to the Holy See.
"With special spiritual closeness, I think also of those Catholics who maintain their loyalty to the See of Peter (the papacy) without giving in to compromise, sometimes even at the cost of great suffering,” the pope had said in his December speech.
About five million Chinese Catholics attend government-approved churches, which accepts the pope as a figurehead but does not acknowledge him as a central authority.
Though most the bishops in China’s official church have been approved by the pope in a modus vivendi between Beijing and the Holy See, last year’s ordainment upset attempts at reestablishing normalized Sino-Vatican relations.
Pope Benedict XVI recently approved the ordination of Father Gan Junqiu as bishop of the diocese of Guangzhou though he has remained largely critical of the other three ordinations.
Besides struggling with threats of harassment and imprisonment by government authorities, the underground Catholic Church continually competes with the clandestine Protestant church for recruiting new followers.
"The Vatican hopes to resolve the impasse all the more because Protestant churches are benefiting more from the spiritual thirst of the Chinese than the Catholic Church," Anouil added, also noting that "today's China is no longer the China of Mao Zedong when such a stance could endanger your life."
The officially atheist Communist Party broke ties with the Vatican in 1951 and continues to main that for normalization to occur, the Vatican would have to break ties with Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.