The Imminent Letter

Several interesting developments suggesting that the Pope’s “Letter to Catholics in China” will be released in the next few days:

1. The ever-watchful Jennifer Ambrose pointed out to me that the Pope has named Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli to be the new President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Two weeks ago I wrote a lengthy post concerning Celli and his little-known but long-standing role in Vatican-Chinese relations. As I explained, Celli was Pope John Paul II’s hand-selected “point man” on China, and so it was interesting to see a Vatican source close to the letter suggest that the letter would be introduced by Celli at a press conference. According to press reports, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications is responsible for articulating Vatican policy with the media – a task for which Celli is ideally suited when the letter is released.

2. UCAN is reporting that China’s open Church bishops have been called to Beijing for a meeting to last June 28-29. In the UCAN report, an official with the Catholic Patriotic Association denies that the meeting has anything to do with the Pope’s letter, and is merely a planning session for celebrations relating to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the CPA on July 15, 1957. However, several bishops contacted for the UCAN story indicate that the real purpose of the meeting is a discussion of the letter and how it should be received in China’s parishes. If so, it would seem likely that – as promised – Rome has sent a copy of the letter to the Chinese government, and the CPA has prepared a response. And that leads me to believe that the content of the letter might begin to leak over the next day or so.

3. Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect for the Congregation of the Evangelisation of Peoples (formerly Propaganda Fide), and Father Ciro Biondi, Secretary of the Pontifical Missionary Union, have called upon 610 female monasteries to devote a week of prayer “so that the Letter of the Holy Father is well received, China opens up to the Gospels and give unrestricted religious freedom to all believers.” AsiaNews seems to have run this story first, on June 25. The story gave no indication on when the week of prayer should start, but I’m guessing that the timing of this week should coincide with the letter’s release.

[Late Thursday night update. AsiaNews is reporting that the meeting of the open church bishops is actually in Huairou, just outside of Beijing, and the topic is in fact the Pope’s letter and how to respond to it. The tone of the report is quite pessimistic, with some speculation as to what the designated response will be. In either case, we’ll all know that response soon enough: A handful of blogs and other news sources are beginning to report the rumor that the letter will be published Saturday. It’s a rumor that I heard earlier in the week, and I believe to be correct.]

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