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Catholic congress gets under way in Beijing

By reporter, Hong Kong

The Eighth National Congress of Catholic Representatives convenes in Beijing today amid opposition from the Holy See and resistance from many Catholics in the mainland.

The highest authority of the government-sanctioned “open” Church began its plenary meeting after a few postponements.

Excluding those bishops who are too old or sick to travel and a few who refused to take part because of Church principle, estimates some 40 bishops and about 300 priests, nuns and lay representatives nationwide are attending the meeting.

Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), told that the exact number of participants can only be confirmed at the end of the congress, as more people are still expected to arrive at the Beijing Friendship Hotel venue this afternoon.

The national congress has attracted criticisms from in and outside China. Some priests feel discouraged and disappointed by the meeting.

“Clergy who hold fast to Church principle work hard in the frontline while some so-called representatives attend the congress in the name of the Church for fame and wealth,” one priest said.

Even if most members in a diocese oppose the congress and the principle of an independent Church, a few persons from that diocese attending will give an impression that the whole diocese supports it, another said.

Meanwhile, some dioceses have mobilized the faithful to pray daily for the congress until it concludes on Dec. 9.

Beijing Friendship Hotel, the venue for the congress

But in Hong Kong today, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) rallied at the Central Government’s Liaison Office to protest against the opening of the congress.

JPC project officer Or Yan-yan told that the congress violates Church principle and structure and creates harm to the autonomy and normal operation of the China Church.

It is a grave violation of religious freedom that government officials reportedly pressured the bishops to attend the meeting, she said.

The marchers prayed and then tied purple ribbons on the liaison office’s gate to symbolize sufferings of mainland Catholics.

As in previous congresses, the participants are anticipated to elect new leaders for the CCPA and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, amend the constitutions of the two bodies and listen to work reports of the Church and speeches of government officials.

Church observers believed the three-day congress was set to close on Dec. 9 to avoid clashing with another controversial event — the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony the next day.

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