ROME (CNS) -- Members of the underground Church in China have sent messages of congratulations to the new pope while urging him not to forget that they are a persecuted community in a country that lacks religious freedom.
One underground community of Catholics in northwest China wrote to Pope Benedict XVI asking him "not to forget the suffering Church in China" because it struggles "without any freedom at all," said an April 29 report by Asianews, an Italian-based missionary news agency.
"Ever since China's religious affairs regulations came into effect March 1, underground Catholic priests must report weekly to religious affairs officials on their activities and must ask public security officials for permission to leave the parish," the Catholic community said in its message to the pope.
China created a government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in 1957 to bring the Church in line with communist goals and to separate it from "foreign interference," such as ties with the Vatican. An underground Church continued to exist and face persecution. In recent years, Hong Kong Church officials said up to two-thirds of the underground bishops have reconciled secretly with the Vatican, and at the parish level, there is some mingling of the two Churches.
Asianews said underground Catholics in Wenzhou Diocese in eastern China wrote Pope Benedict with their hopes that he would visit China soon and bring them "light and freedom" as well as lead them "in love and truth toward full communion with the universal Church."
The news agency said the pope's choice of name had special meaning for Catholics in China.
Pope Benedict XV, who was pope from 1914-1922, "made special efforts for the Church in China, enabling his successor, Pope Pius XI, to ordain the first Chinese bishops in 1926," it said.
In his note of congratulations to Pope Benedict, retired underground Bishop Casimir Wang Milu of Tianshui, in northwest China, said he was "praying intensely" that the new pope might visit China someday.
The bishop also wrote that Pope Benedict XV's 1919 apostolic letter, "Maximum Illud," called on Catholics in China "to sacrifice themselves for the sake of evangelization, not to indulge in court disputes, not to ask for compensation, but to forgive with love."
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