Beijing (AsiaNews) -- Though physically far, Chinese Catholics felt in their heart close to Saint Peter's, as they waited up late into the night to see the new pope's election on Internet and satellite television.
From homes, parishes and seminaries in the Hebei province, Catholics received "with joy and emotion" news of the election of Benedict XVI. "We have been waiting for this moment for days and now receive with joy, emotion and hope news of the new pope and his speedy election." A priest from the diocese of Zhengding told AsiaNews that Catholics were tuned in to the final moments of the Conclave via a Chinese Internet site which showed live footage of smoke from the Sistine Chapel which signalled voting results. "In our heart, we felt ever close to Saint Peter's, together with the rest of the world." "We are happy that Cardinal Ratzinger was elected," the priest went on to say, "we felt strongly that he was the right choice." "We have read many of his texts and appreciate the solidity of his faith," he added.
Chinese Catholics are struck by the simplicity and humility of the new Pontiff: "these qualities make us feel even closer to him." The priest explained that efforts are dedicated now "to praying for better relations between China and the Vatican with the new Pope and that the Pontiff may finally be able to visit Beijing." "If this dream were to come true," he stated, "we would all be ready to go as pilgrims to the capital to greet the Pontiff whom we await as always."
Since April 2, day of John Paul II's death, all Chinese bishops invited the faithful to pray for the late Pope, but also for the Conclave. Catholic communities throughout the country followed the main events and read the Chinese translation of Cardinal Ratzinger's homily for John Paul II's funeral and for the pro eligendo pontifice Mass. So great was the desire to participate directly in these important Church moments that one young woman said with regret, "Too bad the doors to the Sistine Chapel are kept closed."
According to AsiaNews sources, after John Paul II's funeral on April 8, state media were no longer offering news from the Vatican. Over recent days, all attention has been concentrated on anti-Japan protests. Nevertheless, Catholics tried to stay informed via satellite t.v.: "Even if broadcasts were in foreign languages, it didn't matter: we wanted to see the images, feel that we were part of the events just like the rest of the world."
To have watched the election of the Pontiff in real time was something "extraordinary" for the Catholics of this country. Following the death of John Paul II, government pressure on the community had become even stronger. "In the diocese of Zhengding," an anonymous source said, "government authorities gave parish priests the following 'advice': refrain from holding processions, curtail pray and celebrate Mass inside churches."
During this period, Msgr Julius Jia, non-official bishop of Zhengding, received several "visits" from government officials, but he was permitted to celebrate Mass and to lead prayers for the Conclave, and asked the entire diocese to observe the Novendiali (9 days of mourning).
Churches throughout Beijing were packed with members of the faithful, seminarians and nuns for John Paul II's funeral on April 8.
In Chendu (Sichuan), participants at the Mass wore white flowers on their left lapel as a sign of mourning, in the Chinese tradition