A Catholic bishop from an unregistered church, who has been released from 10-year jail last month, said he would join the open church for the reconciliation between the two parties.
The 57-year-old prelate, Francis An Shuxin, from the Diocese of Baoding in Hebei Province was arrested in May 1996. The government released him suddenly on Aug. 25 and he was given permission by to continue his pastoral work under the government's management, according to the U.S.-based rights group Cardinal Kung Foundation.
The Monday’s report from Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) mentioned that An has decided to "come out" and join the open Church "for communion and development" of both Church communities. His movement has also been backed by the Holy See, An emphasized.
Currently, An concelebrates the Sunday Mass with government-recognized Bishop Su Changshan of Baoding and seven open Church priests in the presence of 700 Catholics. Three out of the seven priests were formerly from the underground community. During the Mass, two prelates wore priests' vestments rather than Episcopal garb and Bishop Su resides over the Mass.
"If both sides don't achieve reconciliation in the Sacraments, our talk about reconciliation is just empty words," Bishop An remarked, quoted by UCAN.
Even though there is no specific plan for collaboration so far, both Bishop An and the official church has expressed common interest for better development of the diocese. They both believe that the future of the diocese will depend greatly on how well the two bishops reconcile and work together.
Government approved church and underground church in China have long been separated since 1950 when the Chinese government prohibited any churches to be loyal to the pope and the Vatican’s authority. Bishops are to be appointed by the government. Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly pledged his commitment in recovering the diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican.
It is obvious that continuous conflicts between the two communities have resulted in pastoral and evangelization work coming to a halt in some parishes. Therefore, although many underground Catholics resist dialogue with the open Church and government, some still want to start, an anonymous underground priest told UCAN.
Reliable sources say that the unofficial, Vatican-affiliated Catholic Church has a membership larger than the 5 million registered. Vatican officials have estimated that the country has as many as 10 million Catholics in both the official and unofficial churches. Chinese Catholic sources put the total number at approximately 8 million.