Pope backs Beijing's new state-approved bishop

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VATICAN CITY, Sept 21 (Reuters) Pope Benedict has given his backing to Beijing's new state-approved Catholic bishop, the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said today, hours after Li Shan was installed in the Chinese capital.

The Holy See has had no diplomatic ties with Beijing since 1951 and China's estimated 8 to 12 million Catholics are divided between a state-sanctioned church and an underground church wary of government ties.

L'Osservatore said the Catholic congregations in Beijing and Kwejang, which also got a new bishop, Xiao Zejiang, celebrated ''on receiving news of the communion conceded by the Pope to Monsignor Xiao and Monsignor Li''.

The Vatican's mouthpiece entrusted ''these two young prelates and their dioceses to the protection of the Virgin Mary''.

But the paper noted ''with regret that some bishops not in communion with the Holy See took part in the consecration rite'', which took place in the 400-year-old Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception southwest of Tiananmen Square.

While the state-approved church honours the Pope, China's communist-run government restricts its formal contacts with the Vatican and today's ceremony avoided mention of the Holy See.

Li Shan himself made no mention of papal approval.

His appointment has become a test of relations between the Catholic church and China just as the Pope is urging better ties and healing between divided believers, while demanding that he choose China's bishops, possibly with government consultation.

L'Osservatore expressed the ''wish that all dioceses can have worthy pastors, capable of living in full communion with the Catholic Church and with the Heir to Peter and to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people of China''.

It quoted a letter from Pope Benedict to Chinese Catholics from May which voiced the hope that the Vatican, Chinese bishops and Chinese authorities could ''overcome their difficulties and reach a useful understanding'' to the benefit of believers.

REUTERS ARB RK1858

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