Vatican Corner 10-21-18

In Beijing, China on September 22, 2018 the Holy See and the government of China signed a historic agreement regarding how Roman Catholic bishops in China are to be appointed. This was a first step towards the repair of diplomatic relations which ended in 1951. Pope Francis has been working to start a dialogue with China and rebuild a relationship. He has sent gifts to Chinese President Xi Jinping, had his homilies translated into Chinese, and last year sent 40 works of art to Beijing in a cultural exchange. Francis has also refused to meet with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, since he knows such a meeting would anger Beijing. China’s 12 million Catholics are split between an underground church sworn loyalty to the Vatican, and the government supervise Catholic Patriotic Association. Religion is important in China, and the Chinese government with its strong nationalism and fear of foreign powers has for decades demanded that they alone should choose their country’s religious leaders. Part of the historic agreement was for Pope Francis to recognize seven Chinese bishops who were appointed by Beijing without Vatican approval, and who were excommunicated as illegitimate. The agreement is said to give the Vatican a say in the selection of future bishops in China from a short list nominated by the government. The Vatican’s objective with the agreement was to allow the faithful to have bishops who are in communion with Rome while the Chinese objective seems to be to have bishops they prefer. The agreement does nothing for perhaps 12 Catholic priests and bishops who were detained in China, of whom some are believed to have died in prison. The agreement also does not involve full diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican, since that would require the Vatican to give up its recognition of Taiwan. In recent years repression has increased by the Chinese government on Christians and followers of other faiths. Critics of the deal feel it is a surrender and believe there should never be compromise with the Beijing government. They fear greater suppression will come with the Vatican giving away some of its authority. Greg Burke, director of the Holy See press office, acknowledged there is work to be done to reassure those who opposed the agreement. “This is not the end of a process. It’s the beginning. This has been about dialogue, patient listening on both sides even when people come from very different standpoints.” Hopefully dialogue will replace the violence. President Xi, as he worked his way through his political party to the top of the government has always encouraged traditional Chinese forms of religion. The religious future of China doesn’t look to be what he wants. The numbers of Catholics and Protestants have grown steadily since the end of the Maoist repression with Protestants being 8 or 9 times as many as Catholics. Some predictions say that in 15 years, China will have the largest number of Christians in the world” Confucius say: If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.