Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the press spokesman for the Holy See, told reporters that the Holy Father had specifically invited two senior Chinese bishops to attend, so that all of the country's other bishops could feel that they were represented.
Bishop Matthias Duan Yinming, the first of the Pope's choices, is the oldest bishop in China, having been consecrated in the Diocese of Wanxia, Sechuan, in 1949. He was born in the same diocese in 1908.
The second bishop mentioned, Bishop Joseph Xu Zhixuan, is the coadjutor of Wanxia. He was born in 1916 and ordained to the priesthood in 1946, then to the episcopacy in 1980.
Vatican sources indicated that there are at least 70,000 Catholics loyal to Rome within the Wanxia diocese. One source added that at least 50 of the bishops who work within the government-sponsored Catholic Patriotic Association have secretly pledged their loyalty to the Holy See.
In a related story, out of Beijing on the eve of the Vatican's bishop synod for Asia, the chairman of the Communist-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association on Monday called on Pope John Paul II to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognize Communist China.
"We hope that Pope John Paul II will cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognize the People's Republic of China as China's only legitimate government as soon as possible," said Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, head of the state-sanctioned church which eschews all ties to the Vatican and rejects some foundational dogmas, including papal infallibility. "If the political problems between the two states are resolved it will open new prospects in the relations between the two churches," the bishop told a news briefing in Beijing.
China does not allow the Pope to appoint bishops, allowing only its own appointed bishops to lead Catholics. A large community of Catholics worship underground, led by bishops who proclaim loyalty to the Holy Father. Bishop Fu said while the state-approved Chinese Catholic church pledges allegiance to China's Communist government and does not recognize the Vatican's authority, it had no differences with the Universal Church on matters of religious belief. "We are completely in accord with the Pope on matters of faith and doctrine, and Chinese Catholics pray for the Pope in Masses in all churches," he said.