HONG KONG – Catholic bishops who have registered with the Chinese government were called to a two-day meeting in Beijing in late June.
Some bishops contacted by UCA News, an Asian church news agency, said they believed the June 28-29 meeting was related to an expected letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Catholics in mainland China; others said they did not know why the meeting was called.
The pope promised to write such a pastoral letter after a summit took place Jan. 19-20 at the Vatican to discuss the situation of the Catholic Church in China. The letter, which Pope Benedict reportedly signed May 27, is generally expected to be released soon.
Vatican sources have said that, as a courtesy, the letter would be sent to the Chinese government before it was released publicly.
Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, confirmed to UCA News June 27 that the bishops were invited to a June 28-29 meeting to discuss a plan for the celebration of the patriotic association’s golden jubilee. He denied that the meeting has any connection to the papal letter.
“We don’t know its content, so how can we discuss it?” Liu said.
Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyi, who reached Beijing June 27, told UCA News the meeting, organized by the patriotic association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, would mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Bishop Joseph Zong Huaide, the former head of both bodies. Bishop Zong died June 27, 1997.
Bishop Fang, a vice president of the bishops’ conference, said he knew of no other agenda for the meeting.
A church source in Beijing told UCA News the June 28-29 meeting might also discuss the pope’s pastoral letter, but the agenda remained unknown. Basically all bishops must attend, the source said, and most were informed by phone, but some were told about the meeting by local religious affairs officials.
A bishop in northern China told UCA News that local religious affairs officials had informed him about the meeting June 25 and he was told the meeting would be about “how to receive the papal letter.”
Another bishop in central China who asked not to be named told UCA News that he and other bishops in his province heard about “a meeting in Beijing June 28-29,” but not about its agenda. He said he was still pondering whether to attend.
A bishop in southern China, who was leaving for the airport, told UCA News June 27 that he did not know the purpose of the meeting, but he and a fellow bishop guessed it somehow would be related to the papal letter.
That same day, Bishop John Liu Jingshan of Ningxia told UCA News he knew about the meeting but could not attend due to a leg problem. He added that his guess was the meeting was related to the forthcoming papal letter.