On the fourth day after the death of Pope John Paul II in Shijiazhuang, China, Father Benedictus, one of country’s underground priests rode his 125cc Honda motorcycle along with 400 worshippers paraded down a quiet lane to the courtyard bearing candles and a memorial photograph of the deceased pontiff without showing any signs of stealth, which was said to be remarkable, according to Time Asia magazine.
The authorities made no attempt to stop them as they wept, prayed, and lined for communion during mass.
Father Benedictus stated, "As long as we don't protest or set off firecrackers, we're basically left alone.”
Beijing’s officially sanctioned East Church, which administered by state-run Catholic Patriotic, was also very active in their participation of the pope’s memorial. They hung large banners to commemorate the pope, and a priest led prayers for Pope’s “peaceful enjoyment of heaven,” according to Times Asia.
For the first time since Beijing severed the relationship with the Vatican in 1951, the worshippers in the state-approved churches were allowed to commemorate a Pope’s death.
“Underground churches now often work openly in China, and official churches recognize the spiritual authority of the pope,” says Anthony Lam, senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong.
Not only were there more signs and hopes for Catholics to practice their faith openly, but with the 10 million Catholics united in mourning the Pontiff, the division between underground and official congregations has been blurred.
Anthony Lam says that the out pouring of grief “has brought the underground and official churches closer to each other than any other time in 50 years.”
According to Times Asia staff reports, unity represents an opportunity for the next pope to fulfill the pope’s unfulfilled desire to visit China and re-establish diplomatic relations with Beijing, which will provide the Vatican a direct link to China’s Catholics and greater ability to object to government oppression.
In return, China would demand that the Holy See break off its ties with Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, but one sticking point remained: the Pope’s right to name bishops in China, which Beijing refuses to accept because it would mean ceding authority to a foreign power.
Despite the differences and difficulties to comply with its faith doctrines, local Catholic leaders are enjoying more contact with Rome than ever before.
All but about 10 of China's 70 official bishops have been recognized by the Pope, according to the Vaticans.
Nor does the Vatican object when underground bishops come in from the cold and join the official church. "The official church in China is still a church, and its religious practices are valid," a Vatican official told TIME.
According to sources, underground Bishops are heard to cooperate often with an official church. For example, Father Benedictus would dispatch young parishoners to help with yard and manual labor, but he is most comfortable staying underground, because he wants to report to Rome.
Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen states that "For Catholics to be free means to be in contact with the Holy See." China's Catholics hope that the new Pope will be able to fulfill the desire of Pope John Paull II for China and provide greater leadership.