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Catholic World News News Feature

China rejects Pope's invitation for bishops to attend Synod September 12, 2005

The Chinese government has rejected an invitation from Pope Benedict XVI for 4 Chinese bishops to participate in the Synod of Bishops, which will meet in Rome in October.

However, the AsiaNews service believes that the government's decision may be subject to change. "Our impression is that the last word has not yet been said on the four bishops’ invitation to Rome," writes Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of AsiaNews, in an analysis of the Chinese announcement.

The Xinhua news service quoted an unnamed government official as saying that by issuing the invitations without consulting the Chinese government, the Pope "shows no respect for China's 5 million Catholics, the Chinese bishops' conference, and the Chinese Patriotic Association." The anonymous spokesman also said that the bishops named by Pope Benedict are aged and frail, and cannot travel to Rome for the Synod meeting.

The Patriotic Association is the government-sponsored organization which theoretically supervises all legal Catholic activities in China; the "underground" Church operates outside the law. Three of the four bishops invited-- Bishops Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, Anthony Li Duan of Xian, and Luke Li Jingfeng of Fengxiang-- are recognized by both the Vatican and the Chinese government; the fourth-- Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar-- is a leader of the underground Church.

The Pope's invitation to the Chinese bishops had been a dramatic move, widely interpreted as a bid to improve relations with the Beijing government. The gesture provoked great excitement among Chinese Catholics. In Beijing, a priest there told the Fides news service, "local Catholics were delighted at the news." He added: "The future appears less dark."

In the September 9 announcement that the bishops would not attend the Synod meetings, the anonymous government spokesman concedes that Chinese Catholics-- including representatives of the "official" Church agencies approved by the government-- had initially welcomed the Pope's invitation. That admission seems to indicate a difference of opinion among Chinese officials.

"For this reason," writes Father Cervellera in his AsiaNews analysis "it is still possible that the government will detach itself from the statement of the Patriotic Association’s spokesperson, and take a groundbreaking and far-sighted decision."

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