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Priest lights candle of reconciliation 
after being refused entry to China

ROME (SE): One of the founding members of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, Father Angelo Lazzarotto, who has visited China at least once a year since 1978, was refused entry to the mainland on his last attempt in September this year, Vatican Insider reports.

Now 86-years-old, the priest from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) lived in Hong Kong from 1956 to 1965 and again from 1979 to 1985.

He was refused entry at Beijing airport when he arrived with a pilgrimage group from Milan, Italy.

Father Lazzarotto met with Deng Xiaoping when he was the vice president of China during one of his many visits of the distant past.

Described as a man who prefers to light a candle rather than curse the darkness by Rome-based journalist, Gerard O’Connell, Father Lazzarotto says that it seems to be extremely difficult for the Vatican to find a way forward in its relations with Beijing at present, as successful negotiations need to begin in an atmosphere where both sides have some hope of achieving something.

In choosing to light a candle of reconciliation rather than condemn the authorities for refusing him entry to China, he said that it is necessary to look for a win-win situation.

Father Lazzarotto told O’Connell, “According to ancient Chinese wisdom only a perspective that permits both the contending parties to come out in some way winners can assure a lasting peace. In the present situation, it is not easy to hypothesise on the concrete possibility of a win-win situation.”

However, he believes that despite the current difficulties that have seen tightened control and manipulation of Church affairs by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in the wake of the illicit ordinations of bishops in Chengde on November 20 last year and in Shantou on July 14, there are still signs of hope.

Father Lazzarotto points to a July 25 declaration from the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), which says, “The Chinese government is willing to improve Sino-Vatican relations through constructive dialogue,” as being a possible olive branch.

He said that with improved relationships between Beijing and Taipei, the government has dropped the issue of the Vatican’s diplomatic ties with the rebel island from its verbiage, but has replaced it with, “Religious freedom is China is protected by the Chinese constitution, but it requires independence of organisations and of the religious activities from foreign influences” (Xinhua, 22 December 2010).

The article adds that since the decisions of the National Congress for Catholic Representatives held in Beijing in December last year did not touch matters pertaining to the fundamental tenets of faith, the Vatican is wrong in declaring incompatibility of Catholic doctrine with the principle of independent government on the part of the Chinese Catholic Church.

However, Father Lazzarotto points out that despite this rhetoric, both SARA and the United Front, which in effect control the activities of the Church, have picked on the one issue that it is well known that the Catholic Church cannot compromise on, the appointment of bishops, which leaves the Vatican with little room to move.

The Italian missionary asks, “In what other country in the world is the ordination of a Catholic bishop organised and held with such a roll out of the police force? This fact shows that in China, the declared religious freedom serves more to realise the political designs of the state, than to express respect for the legitimate traditions of believers.”

He adds that this has led to even Chinese scholars asking if remnants of the Cultural Revolution are not still alive and well on the mainland.

Nevertheless, he adds that the continual pressure placed on Church personnel in China has also produced internal problems within the various dioceses. “Worrying signs have emerged,” O’Connell quotes the PIME missionary as saying.

“Besides the numerous bishops and other delegates who are constrained by force to participate… there is also no lack of bishops and priests who did not put up resistance and backed the goals of the Patriotic Association,” he laments.

However, he notes that there are still many unknowns that need to be taken into account. “Much money flows through the Patriotic Association in a growing number of dioceses, seminaries and parishes, and so the one who does not cooperate with the government must pay a heavy financial price,” he observes.

He notes too that careerism affects the Chinese Church as much as it does any other diocese in the world.

Nevertheless, he says that it is still necessary to search for an opening from which to try and resume a dialogue, especially in the interpretation of the pope appointing bishops as being outside interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

He asks if the rest of the world can live with it, why can’t China?

Father Lazzarotto is of the opinion that this work must begin within China itself, saying that if the Chinese Conference of Catholic Bishops could be offered the opportunity of studying and approving amendments to the Statute of the Conference and suggest changes that could bring harmony to common Catholic doctrine and practice, this may well be a constructive beginning.

He adds that the same thing needs to be done in the Patriotic Association.

“It is a daring and rather demanding proposal,” Father Lazzarotto admits, “but only such a double revision would permit all the bishops of China to enter and form part of a bishops’ conference… and might improve the standing of the Patriotic Association in the eyes of Chinese Catholics.”

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