Pope urges Chinese bishops to refuse to split from Rome

Beijing and the Vatican have been at loggerheads since 1951.

Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday
called on Catholics across the world 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

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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