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Pope Francis and the Chinese Government have giving their blessing to the opening of the first contemplative monastery in China since Mao-Tse Tung took power in 1949.
The monastery of St Augustine was opened in Lintou, in the eastern province of Shan Xi earlier this month.
The monastery and associated nursing home will be known as St Augustine's Garden.
St Augustine's Garden was opened by Bishop Paul Meng of Taiyuan, whose episcopal ordination was approved by both Rome and the Beijing-approved Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC).
More than 1,700 lay faithful attended the two-hour Mass, which was concelebrated by Bishop Wu Jin Wei of Yun Cheng, and around 50 priests. The monastery church was opened and consecrated by Bishop Wu Jin Wei the previous evening. At least eight dioceses were represented at the opening of the monastery.
Both the local county's Head of the Government Religious Affairs Bureau and the Secretary of the Communist Party in the local village attended the Mass and made speeches of support at the reception.
The building of the monastery was mainly financed by supporters of the British charity Cultural Exchange with China (CEC), which aims to build bridges between the Catholic Churches of China and Britain.
The monastery’s local bishop, 90-year-old John Baptist Wang Jin of Yutze, was too ill to attend the opening ceremony but he received an apostolic blessing from Pope Francis and imparted his blessing to those who attended the opening.
Bishop Wang Jin agreed to a request from Sr Mary Niu Shufen, the Mother Founder of the monastery, to go ahead with the project, because of his experience of prayer and contemplation while in prison. As a priest, he spent 20 years in prison, ten in solitary confinement.
The Director of CEC, Fr Eamonn O'Brien SSC, said the project had taken eight years to complete. The monastery will follow the rule of St Augustine and in addition to housing a contemplative order of nuns, will be a catechetical and retreat centre for local Christians, a place of reflection for all and a nursing home for the elderly and infirm, CEC said in a statement.