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Tuesday, 26 September, 2000, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
China attacks Vatican saints plan
Chinese catholics
China's official Catholic Church claims about 4m faithful
China has launched a vitriolic attack on the Vatican's plans to canonise 120 Catholic victims of persecution, saying that most deserved their fate.

"Most. . . were executed for violating Chinese law during the invasion of China by imperialists and colonialists", said the foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi, while others "were killed for bullying the Chinese people".

The sanctification of such people distorts truth and history, beautifies imperialism and slanders the peace-loving Chinese people

Foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi
Mr Sun accused the Vatican of "undermining efforts to improve relations", which had enabled a close aide of the Pope's - Cardinal Roger Etchegaray - to visit China last week.

Correspondents say that China has taken particular offense at the Pope's plans to hold the ceremony on 1 October, the anniversary of the communist victory in China.

Vatican defence

They say that the outburst by Mr Sun shows that China was in no way mollified by Cardinal Etchegaray's statement on Tuesday that the date, which also marks a Catholic festival, had been chosen for purely religious reasons.

Pope John Paul II
The Pope plans to declare 120 Chinese saints are threatening relations
The Cardinal insisted that "neither provocation nor revenge" had been intended by the choice of the date.

The Vatican says that the 120 martyrs - 87 Chinese and 33 European missionaries - were killed in between 1648 and 1930, but mostly during the anti-foreign Boxer Uprising in the late 19th century.

It has not included any of the Chinese Catholics killed by the communist party authorities.

However Mr Sun said that "the sanctification of such people distorts truth and history, beautifies imperialism and slanders the peace-loving Chinese people".

Local church joints attack

The official Catholic church in China, which does not recognise the Pope's authority, also criticised the canonisation plans as "an attempt to distort and tamper with history and a defiance of the sovereignty of the Chinese Catholic church".

The official church claims 4m followers while the Vatican says there are 8m Chinese faithful to the Pope who worship in secret.

It was the official church which welcomed Cardinal Etchegaray to China last week, a rare contact between the Vatican and the Beijing authorities.

However even during his visit, there were frictions over the arrest of Catholic believers and clergy, including a bishop.

Cardinal Etchegaray said he had protested "energetically" over the arrests.

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See also:

25 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vatican protests Chinese arrests
20 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
China riled by Vatican martyrs plan
18 Sep 00 | Asia-Pacific
Bishop arrested in China
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
China sets conditions for papal visit
06 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
China defies Pope
06 Nov 99 | South Asia
Pope urges spread of Catholicism
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