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Cardinal Filoni in heartfelt appeal for dialogue


HONG KONG (SE): The prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and former head of the Vatican China study mission in Hong Kong, Fernando Cardinal Filoni, has broken a silence on China that he has kept almost completely intact since Hong Kong-born Archbishop Savio Tai-fai became secretary to the congregation nearly two years ago.

In a 2,500-word letter, published on October 22 in English, Chinese and Italian, the cardinal makes an almost impassioned personal appeal to Beijing for a renewed dialogue with the Holy See.

Released in Hong Kong by the Holy Spirit Study Centre’s Tripod publication, the letter entitled, Five years after the publication of Benedict XVI’s Letter to the Church in China, the open letter comes in the run up to the once in a decade change of leadership in the country.

Nevertheless, the cardinal points out to the Beijing authorities that the Church has no political ambitions in China.

He says that Pope Benedict’s letter spells out quite clearly the Vatican’s official position on the country, saying that its primary objective is evangelisation.

Cardinal Filoni adds that this is not a hidden agenda for a political aim, but does require that the Church in the mainland be free of political interference in order to carry out its own mission effectively and to contribute to Chinese society to the best of its ability.

Though conciliatory in overall tone, he does point out that Pope Benedict penned his letter five years ago, back in June 2007, but has not yet received any reply from Beijing.

Also, while he mentions the word dialogue 21 times in the Chinese version of the letter, he also refers to his own sense of dashed hope, as during the years from 1992 to 2001, while he was in Hong Kong, he visited the mainland several times and came away with a sense of hope that something positive was emerging after the long years of persecution.

Cardinal Filoni clearly states that the prime cause of division in the Church in China, between the official government-recognised expression and the communities that refuse to bow to the civil authorities, is the manipulative hand of Beijing.

He notes that although Pope Benedict called on Catholics to begin the work of mending fences, he comments that in concrete terms, this really is impossible without an effective dialogue between the Holy See and Beijing, as decades have dug deep furrows of prejudice and misunderstanding, which cannot be solved in a state of perpetual conflict.

He adds that the Holy See is seeking nothing from Beijing other than what it receives from almost every country in the world, a dialogue characterised by mutual trust and equal dignity.

In this context, he points out that the decision of the Eighth National Assembly of Catholic Representatives held in Beijing in 2010 to pressure all priests to become members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association violates the very basis of true dialogue.

Despite the rhetoric coming out of Beijing about religious freedom, Cardinal Filoni comments that the Church only has the freedom of a birdcage.

“The Church in China is not asking for privileges,” he notes, “nor does it intend to put itself in the place of the state… On the other hand, the Church happily offers its own contribution for the common good.”

He adds that the Church is not anti-Chinese, as it encourages people to be good, patriotic citizens. He points to the hundreds of priests, sisters and lay people who have studied abroad in recent years and asks if any of them have been pressured to renounce their national identity.

Nevertheless, he says that while they have great pride in being Chinese, they feel humiliated as Catholics in their own land. The cardinal clearly laments that the glossy expectations of times past have been significantly dulled in recent years.

In conclusion, he points out that all the Holy See hopes for is the opportunity for a dialogue that reflects appreciation of the Chinese Catholic people that will bear the fruit of peace and harmony.


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