ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis insisted Monday that the Vatican’s relations with China were going well but said work must still be done to show Beijing that the Catholic Church isn’t beholden to a foreign power.
Francis spoke about the Holy See’s dealings with China during a press conference en route home from Mongolia, where Beijing and its crackdown on religious minorities overshadowed an otherwise historic first papal visit to the majority Buddhist nation.
Francis sent a telegram of greetings to Chinese President Xi Jinping as his aircraft flew through China’s airspace coming and going to Mongolia. The pontiff also gave a special shoutout to the Chinese people at the end of his main Mass in Ulaanbaatar. He brought up to the altar the current and retired bishops of Hong Kong to demonstrate his “warm” affection for the Chinese people.
But relations remain strained, particularly over a 5-year-old agreement on nominating Catholic bishops. The 2018 accord aimed to unite China’s estimated 12 million Catholics, who have been divided between an official church and an underground church loyal to Rome. The latter emerged when the Communists came to power and diplomatic relations between the Holy See and China ruptured.
On Monday in Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning was asked about the pope’s Sunday greeting to the Chinese people.
“We have seen relevant reports, and my colleagues have introduced China’s position earlier,” Mao said. “China has always taken a positive attitude towards improving relations with the Vatican and has maintained contact and communication with the Vatican.”
The terms of the 2018 deal were never released. But Beijing has made a handful of unilateral bishop appointments without papal consent, an apparent violation of the accord. The Vatican gave in and recognized the appointments after the fact.
Francis insisted that relations were “very respectful” and said he retained “great admiration for the Chinese people.”
“I think there’s more work to be done on the religious aspect to understand ourselves better, so the Chinese citizens don’t think that the church doesn’t accept their culture or values, or that the church depends on another foreign power,” he said.
Francis also was asked about Russia and a recent comment extolling Russia’s imperial past that sparked the ire of Ukraine’s Catholics. During Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Francis has tried to maintain a balancing act with Russia and Ukraine in line with the Vatican’s tradition of diplomatic neutrality. He has expressed frequent solidarity with the “martyred” Ukrainian people but refrained from calling out the Kremlin or Russian President Vladimir Putin for condemnation.
In his recent comments, Francis told a gathering of Russian Catholic youths in St. Petersburg via video conference that they must remember their history and the inheritance of the “great Russia,” citing in particular imperial rulers Charles the Great and Catherine II.
Ukraine’s Catholic archbishop said such historical references recalled the worst of Russia’s bloody imperial past and encouraged Moscow’s current aggression in Ukraine.
Source : VOA News