German chancellor Angela Merkel, on an official visit to China, encouraged the Bishop of Guangzhou on February 4 to engage more in social service to help build a harmonious society based on freedom and equality.
Bishop Joseph Gan Junqiu of Guangzhou met Merkel for 30 minutes after showing her round the gothic Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, commonly known as the Stone House Church, built in 1888.
“Merkel asked about the basic condition of Guangzhou diocese and the Church in Guangdong province, such as the number of Catholics, their age, occupations and what activities do they have besides regular Masses,” Bishop Gan said afterward.
He introduced her to the Church’s various social services for the elderly, sick and poor in Guangzhou.
Bishop Gan said he felt that the chancellor is a devout Christian and is particularly concerned about China’s religious and social policies.
“She encouraged me to open more charitable organizations such as nurseries and homes for the aged to promote social harmony, freedom and equality,” he said.
Bishop Gan was pressured to attend an illicit episcopal ordination in neighboring Shantou diocese last July. He later applied for and obtained pardon from the Pope.
Though Merkel did not mentioned this incident or ask about “religious freedom” directly, the 48-year-old prelate said “she asked if I can talk freely, if someone tells me what I should say and what not to say, including the content of my homilies in Sunday Masses.”
“I told her honestly that I preach in accordance with the Bible and link up with the daily life of our faithful and the reality in the society.”
From the cathedral, Merkel went direct to the airport at the end of her three-day visit to China. Her plans to meet a human rights lawyer in Beijing and visit the office of the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekend newspaper were thwarted due to objections from the Chinese government.