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Wednesday, 20 September, 2000, 20:51 GMT 21:51 UK
China riled by Vatican martyrs plan
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II will canonise 120 people as saints
By religious affairs correspondent Jane Little

Beijing has strongly denounced plans by the Vatican to canonise 120 Chinese martyrs on 1 October, the 51st anniversary of communist rule.

Chinese catholics
China's official Catholic Church has about four million faithful
In a furious statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said the Vatican's plans were "extremely hurtful to the feelings of the Chinese people", and said they would not be tolerated.

Relations between the Roman Catholic state and the People's Republic have often been less than civil, but this latest explosion of anger from China shows it is in no mood to be taunted - whether intentionally or not - by the Vatican.

Of the Chinese people chosen by the Vatican to be made saints, most are reported to have been killed during the Boxer Rebellion 100 years ago.

They are not believed to include anyone who may have died at the hands of the communist government during the notorious years of the Cultural Revolution.

Rocky relations

But it is the fact that the Vatican has chosen 1 October - the big communist holiday in China - that appears to have riled the authorities. The Vatican has declined to comment on its plans.

The criticism comes only days after a senior cardinal visited China to attend a religious conference. His visit prompted fresh speculation that the two states were making progress on the goal of resuming diplomatic relations - broken off in 1957.

But they still seem some way off. Apart from the thorny issue of the Vatican's recognition of Taiwan, the church in China is state-approved and does not recognise the Pope's authority.

Meanwhile there are concerns about the fate of a senior bishop of the underground Catholic Church, who was reported to have been re-arrested last week.

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See also:

18 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
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20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
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06 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
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