ROME Pope Benedict said China's communist authorities were putting pressure on faithful who want to remain loyal to the Vatican and he hoped the Chinese church could survive attempts to divide it from Rome.
He called on Wednesday for all Catholics to pray for the faithful in China, who are not allowed to recognise the pope's authority but forced to be members of a state-backed Church.
"We know that among our brother bishops, there are some that suffer and are under pressure," the pope said at his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square. "By praying we can ensure that the Church in China remains one, holy and Catholic."
The pope has previously denounced restrictions on religious freedom in China and encouraged Catholics there to persevere.
China says it protects religious freedom, but does not recognise the authority of the pope and refuses to establish formal relations with the Vatican until the Holy See -- the Church's governing body -- severs ties with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade territory.
China's 8 to 12 million Catholics are divided between the state-sanctioned church that names bishops without the Vatican's approval and an underground church wary of government ties.
China forced several bishops and priests loyal to the pope to attend a meeting of the state-backed church last year, rankling the Vatican.
Last November, the Vatican condemned the ordination without papal permission of a Chinese bishop, calling it a "painful wound" hampering dialogue between the Holy See and Beijing.
It has urged bishops in China to not themselves be manipulated by the government.
(Reporting by Catherine Hornby; editing by Mark Heinrich)