The Holy See was not able to bring Beijing to an agreement that would allow representatives of the nation's bishops to come to Rome. Among those who did attend the synod were Cardinal Joseph Zen, archbishop of Hong Kong; Bishop José Lai Hung-seng of Macau; and Bishop Peter Liu Cheng-chung of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. Those three prelates were special delegates named directly by the Holy Father.
The Pontiff spoke of the Chinese prelates at Sunday's closing Mass of the synod.
"I want to here give voice to, and give thanks to God for, their love for Christ, their communion with the universal Church and their fidelity to the Successor of the Apostle Peter," he said. "They are present in our prayer, together with the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care.
"Let us ask the 'supreme Shepherd of the flock' to give them joy, strength and apostolic zeal to guide with wisdom and with their sights set on the future the Catholic community in China, so beloved by all of us."
In 2005, four Chinese bishops invited to attend the synod on the Eucharist likewise did not receive permission from the government to attend.
In China, the government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association.
This explains the difference affirmed between the "national" or "official" Church, and the faithful who oppose such control and who wish to obey the Pope directly. The latter constitute the non-official, or underground, Church.
An annual report from the U.S. Department of State released last month and covering the 12-month period up to June 30, 2008, affirmed that during that period, China's repression of religious freedom had intensified in some regions.
The Catholic Patriotic Association reports that 5.3 million people worship in its churches. But according to the report, it is estimated that there are an additional 12 million or more persons who worship in unregistered Catholic churches that do not affiliate with the government association.