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    Saturday, May 13, 2006

    Healing with courage and time

    Like many Roman Catholic clergy in China, Bishop Li Jingfeng has experienced his share of hardship.

    Communist cadres threw him in prison for 15 years, then kept him toiling in a coal mine for seven more. Once he was free, they routinely detained him and harried his followers.

    All along, they badgered him to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the schismatic state-run group that controls the Chinese church and shuns the Vatican.

    But Li never crumpled. And now he's emerged from what's known as the underground Catholic Church to minister in the open, with the officially atheist state begrudgingly acknowledging his religious status. His situation underscores the progress in the careful minuet between the Vatican and China as they inch toward a rapprochement after 55 years of rupture.


    "A great deal of reconciliation has occurred," said Jean-Paul Wiest, a Beijing-based writer on topics related to the Roman Catholic Church. "The so-called difference between the state-sanctioned church and the underground church is less and less meaningful."

    The Vatican now recognizes some 90 percent of China's bishops, Wiest said, including many who are associated with the state-sanctioned church.

    Li holds no apparent bitterness over his mistreatment or jailing. He said he meets with township, county and provincial officials as often as they want.

    "We have known each other for dozens of years. Every year there are dozens of opportunities to debate," Li said. "We have many friends among the officials. They are all atheists. But they have trust in me. They say, `This man is very honest.'"

    With a knowing glimmer in his eye, Li said some fellow clergy members co-opted into leadership positions in the Patriotic Association quietly "act against it. They don't accept its control."

    But publicly, to avoid punishment from the Chinese government, they're sometimes they're forced to go against Rome, he said.


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