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Chinese bishops break silence on Vatican deal

HONG KONG (UCAN): Chinese bishops have broken the taboo about rarely talking about Sino-Vatican relations by backing a proposed deal on episcopal appointments.
The bishops, who have government recognition, spoke at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) held recently in Beijing. They said the agreement is developing in a good direction and expressed support for the president, Xi Jinping, saying their citizenship takes priority over religion and beliefs.
Bishop Peter Fang Jianping of Tangshan, an NPC member, said he hoped Sino-Vatican relations would have a good result this year, and he was confident the two parties could reach an agreement on appointment of bishops.
He pointed out that if mainland bishops could obtain legal status from the Church, that could effectively promote Sino-Vatican relations and the development of the China Church.
Bishop Fang said the progress and specific contents of the negotiations are not very clear, but he believed that China and the Vatican have been working hard for years to reach an agreement, and now no obstacles are between the two parties in the negotiations.
He also said members of the Church should support Xi “because we, as citizens of the country, should first be a citizen and then have religion and beliefs.”
Asked about the priorities of leaders and religions, Bishop Fang answered that they are giving back to God what is God’s, and to the country what is the country’s.
Excommunicated Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin of Leshan, a CPPCC member, told the media that if diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican were established, it would have a good impact on China’s international influence and implementation of religious policies while allowing the Church to conduct its work more normally on the mainland.
Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Mindong, who is also under excommunication, told the Sing Tao Daily on March 10 said that Sino-Vatican relations had made a big breakthrough. “There are no obstacles if everyone just thinks of the benefit of the Church for the sake of peace,” he said.
When asked how the unofficial Church should be managed in the future, Bishop Zhan said the Church relies on joint management and it would be necessary for laypeople, priests and religious sisters to unite to be able to do well.
“If Church management is arbitrary, no one can manage it well,” he said, adding that complying with national religious laws and regulations is a must and “managing the Church should be in accordance with the law.”
Bishop Fang Xingyao, chairperson of the Patriotic Association who is recognised by both China and the Vatican, said he would examine the negotiations to assess the balance between loving the country and loving the Church.
Wang Zuo’an, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, told the media that China has always been sincere about improving Sino-Vatican relations and has made great efforts to do so.
He described the communication channels between the two sides as effective and smooth. He also pointed out that China would continue to uphold the principle of consistent adherence and make efforts to improve Sino-Vatican relations.
Wang declined to comment on whether there would be an agreement on bishop appointments in March.

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