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VATICAN CITY – The Vatican said Friday that no bishops from mainland China will be attending a worldwide meeting of prelates in Rome next week – a clear sign there has been no breakthrough in the Vatican’s efforts to improve relations with Beijing.
Officials say 253 bishops will attend the meeting that will discuss the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics. They include bishops from Macau and Hong Kong, but none from the mainland.
Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi says there were no requests from the bishops “because the conditions weren’t there.”
“It’s quite obvious knowing the Chinese that if one can’t reach an agreement, they (the bishops) can’t come,” he told reporters.
Pope Benedict XVI has made the improvement of relations with Beijing a priority of his papacy.
Ties between the Vatican and China’s communist government are long strained. Beijing objects to the Vatican’s tradition of having the pope name his own bishops, calling it interference in China.
China appoints bishops for the state-sanctioned Catholic church. In recent years, some of those bishops have received the Vatican’s tacit approval.
Still, many of the country’s estimated 12 million Catholics worship in congregations outside the state-approved church with bishops loyal to the pope.
In May, the China Philharmonic Orchestra performed for Benedict in a landmark concert at the Vatican. China’s ambassador to Italy attended the concert, even though China’s officially atheist Communist Party cut ties with the Vatican in 1951.
The Vatican meeting, known as a synod of bishops, will run from Monday through Oct. 26. Chinese bishops have not been allowed to travel to similar meetings in the past.
A document prepared for the meeting rejected a fundamentalist approach to the Bible and said a key challenge was to clarify for the faithful the relationship of scripture to science. A rabbi will address the conference on Monday, believed the first time a Jew has participated at such a meeting.
Benedict on Sunday will read a Biblical passage on Italian television to kick off a marathon televised Bible reading.
Associated Press – October 3, 2008
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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