I just read through the Pope’s letter To the bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China. I strongly encourage you to do the same even though it is not a short letter.
Considering the tensions that exist in Chinas between the so-called patriotic Catholic churches, the underground churches, and the government this is truly a pastoral letter addressing this complicated situation. The Holy See has no formal diplomatic ties with the People’ Republic of China and their diplomatic ties with Taiwan are not mentioned in this letter. The stated purpose and tone of the letter immediately acknowledges "sometimes at the price of grave sufferings” of the faithful in China. Though the letter is certainly pastoral and not adversarial, it also certainly does not minimize the real problems of the Church in China.
The Pope in this letter addresses also those tensions of those truly faithful to Church an its head the Pope in participating in the sacraments. The Pope acknowledges those bishops in the state approved Catholic Churches who were ordained without the pontifical mandate, but have subsequently asked to be received into communion with the Successor of Peter. He though says that in many cases that who have requested this and received it have not made known their legitimization publicly and that this has risen to a number of grave problems of conscience for those of the faithful. The Pope in Part Two addresses many of these problem i the Guidelines for Pastoral Life.
The lay faithful too, who are animated by a sincere love for Christ and for the Church, must not hesitate to participate in the Eucharist celebrated by Bishops and by priests who are in full communion with the Successor of Peter and are recognized by the civil authorities. The same applies for all the other sacraments.
Throughout the document the Pope mentions the sufferings of those in the Church, which is of course most prevalent in the underground churches. He leaves it up to the prudence of the individual bishops of how they are to lead the faithful as to whether to take the route of the underground or state-approved churches. The Pope has outlined the areas of disagreement with the government and those areas where true religious freedom must be brought into being, but also reminds them of how the Church sees her role as not being in the political sphere and constantly references the documents of Vatican II. ‘The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor is she tied to any political system. She is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person”
The Holy Father has also set May 24 as a special day of prayer for the Church in China, but we should certainly pray daily for the fruits of this wonderful letter by the Holy Father to come into being.
Update: American Papist is maintaining roundup of reactions to this document.
BEIJING: China said Saturday that frank dialogue with the Vatican was needed to resolve differences between the two sides, and acknowledged an open letter from Pope Benedict XVI to the country’s faithful but did not comment on it directly.
… An official with China’s state-backed Catholic Church said his organization had yet to receive a copy of the letter.
"We haven’t received a copy of it so it’s hard for us to comment," said Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
Have you heard about this new invention called the internet? The last time I checked the Great Firewall of China was not blocking the Vatican’s site.
Vatican Radio has an mp3 that talks about the history between China and the Vatican. Quite interesting the number of encyclicals that have been released in the past since the Communist takeover.