Central News Agency (CNA), via Radio Taiwan International (RTI), →quotes Taiwan’s foreign ministry as saying that the diplomats were closely following developments after Pope Francis had held the first public reception for a mainland Chinese pilgrimage group, led by Suzhou bishop Xu Honggen (徐宏根), on October 5. According to the report, the foreign ministry added that the Vatican, as a non-secular state, remained “absolutely concerned” about the treatment of mainland Chinese underground church members.
RTI CNA refers to a Chinese-language report by the Catholic Asian News network (UCAN), →here in English, on October 13. According to UCA, the event met a mixed reception among the open and underground Catholic communities in China due to ongoing talks between the Vatican and China’s ruling Communist Party that have divided the faithful.
The public reception (including a souvenir photo with the Pope in Saint Peter’s Square) was seen as an indication that the relationship between mainland China and the Vatican were developing further.
Apparently quoting the Taiwanese foreign ministry again, the RTI report points out that there was an alliance between the Republic of China (i. e. Taiwan) regarding religious freedom, democracy, human rights, and humanitarian help, and that in September, → Taiwanese vice president Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) had visited the Vatican on invitation, to take part in the → canonization of Mother Teresa.
→ The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that there has been a long-standing friendship between the Republic of China and the Vatican, that the bilateral friendship was stable and strong, with close exchanges, and frequent high-ranking bilateral meetings between the two sides.
According to the → “state administration for religious affairs of P.R.C” (SARA, 国家宗教事务局) website,
In the morning of April 20 , Father Xu Honggen of the Catholic Suzhou parish was ordained bishop in the → Yangjiaqiao Catholic Church. The → Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China Vice Chairman and Bishop of Linyi diocese in Shandong province, Fang Xingyao, Jiangsu Province Nanjing diocese Bishop Lu Xinping, Shandong Qingdao diocese Bishop Li Mingshu, Shandong Zhoucun diocese Bishop Ma Xuesheng and Shandong Jinan diocese Bishop assistant Bishop Zhang Xianwang conducted the ceremony. More than fourty priests from Suzhou diocese and other provincial cities were also on the platform, with nearly 3,000 Catholics attending. — → Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China Chairman Bishop Fu Tieshan and others sent congratulatory messages. Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association Secretary General Liu Yuanlong, Deputy Secretary General Chen Shujie, were present to congratulate. The ordination was conducted in accordance with the Bishop Conference of the Catholic Church in China’s “Regulations Concerning the Choice of Bishops” and the “Holy Order of Ordination of Bishops”, with the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China’s document of approval being read out. The newly ordained Bishop Xu Honggen swore that he would conscientiously carry out his duties as Bishop, lead all the priests, monks, nuns and church members in the diocese, comply with the state constitution, protect national unity, social stability and unity, and contribute to comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society and to the building of a socialist, harmonious society. The ordainment ceremony was dignified and solemn, warm-hearted and peaceful.
Xu Honggen, born in April 1962, graduated from → Shanghai Sheshan Monestary in 1990. He was ordained by former Suzhou diocesan Bishop Ma Longyao as a priest the same year. From 1994 to 1999, he went to America to study at → St. Joseph’s Seminary and Church in New York and the 联合神学院 in Chicago. He earned theological and classical master’s degrees and is currently [i. e. 2006] the Jiangsu Catholic educational administration’s deputy director.
According to Vatican Radio‘s German-language → website at the time (April 2006), Xu Honggen’s ordination was approved both by the Vatican, and the Chinese government. Oddly, Radio Vatican spotted the diocese in Hong Kong.
The BBC Mandarin service quotes UCAN as writing that this public meeting with Xu Honggen and the pilgrims was considered neglicance of the underground church. Members of the underground church had said the event confirmed that even though they were loyal to the Vatican, they got very little support.