On Friday, Apr 8, 2005, the communist leaders ordered an official blackout on the ceremony of Pope John Paul II after rival Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian were given visa to attend the funeral procession in Rome. Newspapers and televisions would ignore the event. Despite of this, Chinese Catholics marked the day both in official churches and underground congregations.
No media paid any attention with the exception of Xinhua news that provided only a brief two sentence coverage to this historical event, where leaders from all over the world gathered to honor and to show respect to one of the most admired world religious leader.
According to US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, which supports China’s underground Catholic movement, the day would pass in quiet prayer, with no major events organized.
At Beijing’s South Cathedral, a center of the country’s state-sanctioned church, large number of local Catholics gathered for morning mass, under the watchful eye of plainclothes police officers. In other parts of China, places of worship reported plans to commemorate the pope in “low-key ways,” according to AP.
Joseph Kung, President of Cardinal Kung Foundation, reacted to the decision not to broadcast the mass, “This is terrible.” He does not believe that the religious believers would use funeral of the pope as an opportunity to stage an uprising, because “all the religious believers in the country love China.”
The blackout extended to the foreign ministry’s website, where a transcript of Thursday’s regular briefing for local and foreign journalists had had questions and answers about the funeral removed.
According to All-China Journalist Association, the absence of news of the event in the media was not the result of official censorship but of careful consideration of the kind of news that would sell in the marketplace.
A director at the association’s international department stated that the “media themselves choose what to report based on their needs, because there are fewer Catholics in China than in foreign countries, so the potential audience is limited.”
In 1951, the Chinese government broke diplomatic ties with the Vatican. The Holy See recognizes Taiwan, which China considers a part of its territory.
Catholics in China can only worship in state-sanctioned church since 1951, and Beijing also insists on having a say in appointing bishops – condition unacceptable to the Vatican.
Sino-Vatican relations have been further strained since the pope canonized 120 martyrs in China on October 1, 2000.
Apart from the official government-approved Catholic Church, China also has an underground church, which is loyal to the Vatican and is believed to have millions of followers.
According to AP, members of underground churches expressed their disappointment in not being able to see and participate in the funeral of the pope.