Catholic bishops from China will for the first time attend a major Vatican meeting starting this week, the Vatican said on Monday, following a landmark agreement between the Holy See and Beijing.
'There will be two bishops from continental China. They were invited by the pope,' Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri told a news conference. 'I think they are already on their way to Rome.'
The bishops will take part in a month-long meeting, known as a synod, that starts on Wednesday to discuss the role of young people in the 1.2 billion-member Church.
'In the past the Holy See invited bishops from continental China but they were never able to attend,' Baldisseri said.
Baldisseri said it was the first time the Beijing government has allowed bishops to leave the country to attend a Vatican synod, meetings which take place every few years on a different topic.
He said it was a result of the improved relations between the Vatican and Beijing following the signing of the agreement on September 22.
The deal, which was in the making for more than 10 years, gives the Vatican a long-desired say in the choice of bishops in China, though critics labelled the deal a sellout to the Communist government.
China's approximately 12 million Catholics have been split between an underground church swearing loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.
The Vatican has said the absence of a deal could have led to a schism between Chinese Catholics that would have been difficult to heal.
Concerns remain, however, over the fate of about 12 priests and bishops believed to be in detention in China.