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Pope urges Chinese bishops to refuse to split from Rome

by Staff Writers
Vatican City (AFP) May 18, 2011
Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics across the world on Wednesday to pray that Chinese bishops refuse to separate from Rome, in spite of "pressure" from communist authorities.

The pontiff appealed for prayers for the 5.7 million-odd Chinese Catholics caught between staying loyal to the ruling Communist Party in Beijing and an "underground" Church loyal to Rome but not recognised by the authorities.

"We know that among our brother bishops there are some who suffer and find themselves under pressure in the exercise of their episcopal ministry," Benedict XVI said at the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square.

"To them, to the priests and to all the Catholics who encounter difficulties in the free profession of faith, we express our closeness," he said.

The pope called for prayers for the Church in China, "that it remain one, holy and Catholic, faithful and steadfast in doctrine."

Relations between the Vatican and the Chinese church became increasingly tense following the "illegal" ordination of a bishop in Chengde last November -- without the pope's blessing.

The Holy See has since condemned the authorities in China for intimidating or putting undue pressure on Chinese faithful to break away from Rome.

"The church in China, especially at this time, needs the prayers of the universal Church," Benedict said.

"By our prayers... their wish to remain in the one universal Church will prove stronger than the temptation to follow a path independent of Peter," who is regarded as the first Pope by the Roman Catholic Church.

The pontiff recalled the story of Peter's miraculous escape from prison, as told in the New Testament. He called on all Christians to pray for China in the same way that Peter's friends prayed for him before he was freed by an angel.

"Chinese Catholics, as they have said many times, want unity with the universal church, with the successor to Peter," he said.

Beijing and the Vatican have been at loggerheads since China severed ties with the Holy See in 1951. The atmosphere worsened when in 1957 China set up its own Catholic Church administered by the atheist Communist government.

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