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 CNS Story:

CHEN-POPE Apr-23-2008 (950 words) xxxi

Chinese priest calls concelebrating papal Mass 'event of a lifetime'

By Barb Fraze
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A Chinese priest studying in Washington called concelebrating Mass with Pope Benedict XVI and more than 1,300 other priests and bishops "the event of a lifetime."

"During the celebration, I really understood what it means to be one catholic and apostolic church," said Father John Chen Guang Qian of the Archdiocese of Xi'an, China, who is pursuing a licentiate in sacred theology at The Catholic University of America.

Father Chen said the more than 46,000 people at the April 17 Mass at Nationals Park waved flags and shed tears when the popemobile arrived in the stadium.

"It was a wonderful experience for me to see this: conservative and liberal, black, white, Latino and Asian, they were all one," he said in a short reflection written for Catholic News Service.

Father Chen noted that Pope Benedict talked about freedom and reconciliation when he was in Washington.

"His message was not only for Americans; it was also for all the people in the world," the priest said.

"I hope that the Catholic Church in China will have reconciliation, unity and dialogue within the church and with the government," Father Chen said.

"The Chinese Catholics should be able peacefully to celebrate the Eucharist together," he said, referring to some areas of China in which the Catholic Church has two communities -- those who have registered with the government and those who view registration as a serious compromise and prefer to exercise the faith in a semiclandestine manner.

"Although there is no separation in our diocese, there are still some conflicts, and the split does exist in other dioceses, for different reasons in different areas. I know that the reconciliation is the work of God, not something we could achieve on our own; but we have to cooperate with the grace of God. We must remain open to the work of God. I do believe that the Chinese Catholics will be able peacefully to celebrate the Eucharist together," he said.

He also noted that the pope spoke of the pain of clergy sexual abuse of minors and quoted him: "It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention."

"The church in America has experienced such pain as a result of the sexual abuse of minors," Father Chen wrote. "But the church in China has experienced the pain of persecution and the split within the church."

The priest also mentioned Pope Benedict's 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics. The letter called on China's civil authorities to participate in a dialogue with the church.

"I hope this dialogue should be a responsible and respectful dialogue in the effort to build a more humane and free society in China," he said.

Father Chen earned his master of divinity degree at the Philadelphia Archdiocese's St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, then returned to China to serve as dean at the Shaanxi Major Seminary, 1999-2005. He said he wished the pope could visit China.

"I want to tell the Holy Father that the Chinese faithful love him," Father Chen said. "I want to tell him that there is only one Chinese Catholic Church and it is faithful to the Holy See. I know that the Holy Father also loves the Chinese faithful so much."

He said one sign of the pope's love was that Bishop Anthony Li Du'an of Xi'an was one of four Chinese bishops that Pope Benedict named to the 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist at the Vatican, but the Chinese government would not grant any of the four permission to attend. Bishop Li died in May 2006.

"I just want to say thanks to the Holy Father for his loving concern for the church in China," Father Chen said.

The priest also was outside Catholic University's Edward J. Pryzbyla Center when Pope Benedict entered the center later that afternoon to meet with Catholic educators. Father Chen said he was "one of the few lucky persons on campus to touch" the pope's hands.

"His hands were so soft," Father Chen said. "He smiled to our group when he walked into the building. Everyone from the Theological College was so happy to see him in person so closely. It is so different to see him on TV from seeing him in person. He comes as a friend and a preacher of the Gospel."

He said the pope's visit "inspired me a lot."

"The main theme of papal visit in the United States was 'Christ Our Hope,'" Father Chen said. "I hope the Chinese faithful will be united to Christ, to trust in the power of grace to create a future of promise for God's people in China. I hope the Chinese faithful will bring the light and truth of the Gospel to the Chinese nonbelievers."

Father Chen, who will begin studies for a doctorate in sacred theology in September, hopes to return to China to teach at the Shaanxi seminary when he completes that degree. He said seeing the pope will help him.

"I want to learn more in order to teach better in the future," he said. "I want to learn the truth about God and the truth about (the) church's teaching at The Catholic University of America."

He also referred to the papal homily at the Mass in Yankee Stadium April 20, when the pope quoted from the Gospel of St. John: "Real freedom, then, is God's gracious gift, the fruit of conversion to his truth, the truth which makes us free."

"This sentence also encourages me to learn more and to tell the truth to my people in China," he said.


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