Beijing's new Catholic bishop promises harmony between church and society

By Ecumenical News International
September 26, 2007

Beijing's new Catholic bishop, reported to have the approval of both the Vatican and the Chinese government, says he will help the development of a "harmonious society" - writes Francis Wong.

About 1000 people attended the consecration of 42-year-old Joseph Li Shan as bishop of Beijing at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral on 21 September.

Bishop Li said he would lead his people "in adhering to the nation's constitution and maintaining national unification and social stability", and contribute towards the development of a harmonious society, a term used by Chinese leaders to refer to the need for economic growth to be accompanied by social cohesion.

Chinese officials in recent years have said that religion can play an important role in the building of such a society.

Notice of Li's appointment by the Beijing-sanctioned Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China was read out at the ceremony. An article the following day in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said that Pope Benedict XVI had approved the appointment.

It was the first time in 50 years that the Vatican newspaper had reported the consecration of a bishop in mainland China.

In the past, the Vatican has condemned the appointment of bishops in China without papal authority, while Beijing has suggested that Vatican demands to nominate bishops amount to interference in Chinese internal affairs.

The pro-Beijing Hong Kong based-newspaper Wen Wei Po quoted an unnamed source on 22 September as saying that China and the Vatican wanted to reach a consensus on the nomination of bishops. However, the source also said that this would not rule out quarrels in the future since a consensus was far being from an explicit agreement.

China's Catholics are divided into two groups: the state-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope; and the unrecognised Catholic Church, which is loyal to the Pope and has faced persecution by Chinese authorities.

Pope Benedict issued an open letter in June calling for Catholics on the Chinese mainland who belong to government-recognised communities to unite under his authority with those belonging to clandestine groups aligned with the Vatican.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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