Pope Benedict XVI sends special greetings to missing Chinese bishops

Pope Benedict XVI sent a special greeting Sunday to four Chinese bishops prevented by their government from attending a Vatican meeting, saying the suffering of their communities wasn't in vain.

Benedict said he and the estimated 250 bishops gathered for the three-week Synod of Bishops felt "deep sadness" because China wasn't represented at the meeting to discuss pressing issues facing the Roman Catholic Church.

"I would like to assure all the Chinese priests that we are close with prayer to them and to their ... faithful," Benedict said in his homily at a Mass to end the synod.

China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Communist Party took power. Worship is allowed only in government-controlled churches, but millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.

Benedict has been seeking to re-establish diplomatic relations with China and to unify the two churches to bring China's estimated 12 million Catholics under Rome's wing.

As part of that effort, he invited four mainland Chinese bishops to attend the synod: Monsignors Aloysius Jin Luxian of Shanghai, Antonio Li Duan of the central city of Xian, Lucas Li Jingfeng of northern Fengxiang and Joseph Wei Jingyi from the northeastern city of Qiqihar.

But the Communist Party-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association and Chinese Catholic Bishops College turned down the pope's invitation, saying it showed "no respect" because Beijing had told the Vatican that the four couldn't come because of old age and poor health, AP reports.

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