Pope Francis reaches out to China

For now, Pope Francis says he is ready to go to China to continue the dialogue. A source in the Kazakh parliament told CNA that “theoretically” it was possible for the pope and the president to meet in Kazakhstan.

Such a meeting would have been unprecedented, although Reuters reported on September 15 that the pope had made known his “willingness” to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Kazakhstan.

The Reuters report was confirmed to CNA by other sources, citing a series of contacts with the Chinese Embassy in Italy, historically a channel of communication between the Holy See in China and Xi Jinping’s entourage in Kazakhstan. .

While Xi appears to have snubbed the pope and no meeting has taken place, the pope’s approach has not gone unnoticed in China. Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Beijing Foreign Ministry, according to Il Messaggero, praised “the benevolence and cordiality” of Pope Francis’ remarks.

The spokeswoman also said that “China and the Vatican maintain good communication” and are ready to “maintain dialogue and cooperation with the Vatican and carry out the process of improving relations.”

An earlier development was the Munich Security Conference meeting between Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s “foreign minister,” and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on February 14, 2020.

Another development was the location chosen for the latest round of negotiations for the renewal of the agreement this year: the coastal metropolis of Tianjin in northern China.

The location was symbolically important, given that it is one of many vacant dioceses in China since 2005, that is, without a state-recognized bishop.

The meetings took place from August 28 to September 2, and the Vatican delegation, according to an Asia News report, also visited underground bishop Melchior Shi Hongzhen.

The 93-year-old was secretly ordained coadjutor bishop of the diocese along with another cleric on June 15, 1982 by Bishop Stephano Li Side of the Underground Church.

He succeeded Bishop Li Side as Bishop of Tianjin on June 8, 2019. He was under house arrest and pressured to join the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), according to a report by “ Bitter Winter”. .

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In a world where everything must be read in symbols, this was a strong signal from the Holy See: the delegation wanted to show that despite the desire to continue the dialogue, the situation of Catholics in China has not been forgotten.

The latest development is the election of Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing as CPCA President.

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, founded in 1957, is the government body that controls the Church. Catholic priests and bishops are obliged to show goodwill and comply with the demands of the Chinese Communist Party.

The appointment of Li Shan seems an additional sign of a rapprochement: he was consecrated bishop in 2007, with the consent of the Holy See, before the Sino-Vatican agreement of 2018.

It was a move suggesting an improvement in relations following Benedict XVI’s seminal letter to Catholics in China. Li Shan, who recently came out publicly in favor of the Chinese government’s sinicization of religion, also fell on hard times, having hoped for a visit from Benedict XVI to China.

These developments suggest that the renewal of the agreement is progressing rapidly.

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