CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Sino-Vatican provisional deal signed

HONG KONG (SE): The Vatican announced on September 22 that a Provisional Agreement between the Holy-See and China on the appointment of bishops had been signed at a meeting by Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, undersecretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and Wang Chao, deputy minister for Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the heads of the delegation of the Holy See and China. 
The statement said the understanding was “the fruit of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement” had been arrived at after a long process of negotiation, leaving open the possibility of periodic reviews.
The head of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, stated, “This is not the end of a process. It’s the beginning,” and stressed, “This has been about dialogue, patient listening on both sides even when people come from very different standpoints.”
Burke said, “The objective of the accord is not political but pastoral, allowing the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome but at the same time recognized by Chinese authorities.”
Speaking to the Sunday Examiner on September 24, Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, the bishop of Hong Kong, pointed out that the Provisional Agreement is significant because this is the first agreement to have been reached in 50 years between the Chinese government and Vatican. 
“Whether it is a good or bad agreement cannot be judged overnight and it needs time to find out,” the bishop said. 
He went on to use the example of the Protestant Reformation triggered by Martin Luther 500 years ago which caused a split in the Church with Catholics and Protestants criticising each other ever since. But now “we realise that it gave us an opportunity to purify the issue of clericalism in the Church. Similarly, it takes time to see if it is a good or bad agreement.”
Monsignor Ante Jozic, head of the Holy See Study Mission in Hong Kong, told the Sunday Examiner, “The new agreement between the Holy See and China is one small step forward after many years of negotiations and cannot solve all the problems of last 70 years of communist regime in China. I hope and I pray that this accord may be properly implemented and bring positive fruits to our Church in China that the new Church leaders may be examples to the communities entrusted to them.” 
The monsignor said, “The Provisional Agreement is of great importance because it aims to bring more unity to the Church. All the bishops in future should be in communion with the Holy Father”
He said, “For the first time, the Chinese Government will consult the Holy See and ask the approval for those candidates who will be proposed by local communities.”
Monsignor Jozic observed that there should no longer be any unilateral ordinations of bishops by the government in China. 
“It is good to have in future the bishops who will be suitable, morally sound and accepted by both sides: by the universal Church and the Chinese civil authorities,” he said, adding, “With this practice, there will be less tensions in the Church and in the society. For me, this agreement is the first step and an impetus for further normalisation of our relations with China.”
Addressing the doubts and concerns—and even objections—that have been expressed, Monsignor Ante acknowledged there are bishops, priests and faithful in China who are leery of any contact and dialogue—and the Provisional Agreement,—“But they are not so many,” he observed.
He conceded that each person has had their own experience of the communist regime—especially those who suffered for their faith, so it is perfectly normal for them to regard the present developments with caution or suspicion, considering the recent ratcheting up of restrictions on religious freedom. 
Bishop Yeung feels that the voices of disagreement from China are reasonable because the government unjustly makes life difficult for the Church. “Catholics in China are neither radicals nor revolutionaries, instead they are really poor people. It is really unfortunate that the communist government targets the Catholic Church more than any other religious groups in China.” 
However, Monsignor Jozic told the Sunday Examiner, “If the new agreement will be implemented properly, reaching the common good and benefit of the Church, it may also help those who are now not optimistic to regain the confidence.”
The Church in Hong Kong has always been regarded as a bridge between the universal Church and the Church in China, reaching out to both official and unofficial communities.
“The Catholic Church in Hong Kong should continue to have a leading role for the Church in China,” Monsignor Jozic said, adding that it should inspire communities on the mainland “to create their own sustainable structures for the evangelisation work and for the assistance of the poor, sick and marginalised people.” 
At the same time, he noted, “The Church in Hong Kong may also benefit in many ways from the Church in China.”
Bishop Yeung expressed similar sentiments and said that Hong Kong will continue to play a bridging role in the life of the Church in China. “We have chances to invite them to Hong Kong, to study and nurture our faith together and we walk with them...” he said. 
“In Hong Kong, we have the freedom to express our differences. We have different opinions and if we cannot accommodate differences, then there is a serious problem,” the bishop said. “As the saying goes: do not put all your eggs in one basket!” 
Monsignor Jozic stressed that the Holy See would continue to negotiate with the Chinese authorities because, in order for the Church in China and its organisations to effectively carry out its pastoral and social mission, there needed to be more freedom and autonomy.
“I hope the agreement may also bring more trust between the two parties and will inspire other solutions for the benefit of our Catholic Church in China,” he said.
Bishop Yeung expressed his hopes that the agreement is the beginning and not the end. “Notwithstanding (that) I am not aware of the content of the agreement, I am sure there will be more issues to talk about”, he said. 
The bishop of Hong Kong also reiterated that it’s time we left our comfort zones and instead went out to meet with people and walk with them.  
He feels that the Church enters into an agreement with China as an underdog and wonders if the underdog still has some room for expressing its feelings or does it mean that there is very little room left for negotiations? 
Expressing his apprehensions, Bishop Yeung quoted the lyrics from the song by the pop group, ABBA, The Winner Takes it All: “The winner takes it all, the loser’s standing small” and stressed that until all the problems are mutually solved, it cannot be called an agreement. 
“What upsets me most is that more and more churches are torn down and many bishops and priests are disappearing”  
He feared that people might consider it a cliché, yet the truth is “God alone is the master of human history and we place our trust in him! We can see only a little at a time, as it says in The Little Prince: ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye’. Therefore, I call on all the people to trust in God who has built his Church on the rock of Peter.” 

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