05/07/2008, 00.00
VATICAN - CHINA
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Pope: an homage to Chinese culture, and to the "faithful" Catholics

by Franco Pisano
Thanking the Chinese orchestra and chorus that performed Mozart's Requiem at the Vatican, Benedict XVI speaks of the Church's openness to all cultures, and of the value of religion. A reference to the Olympics.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Welcoming, attentive, with words of appreciation for Chinese culture that were certainly pleasing, and a reference - both desired and certainly well received - to the Olympics, but with an assertion of the Church's openness to all peoples and to all cultures, and of the value of the faithfulness of Catholics to the pope, in China as well.  This may not be ping pong diplomacy - and Beijing's preoccupation over the smooth execution of the Olympics had a strong influence on the origin of today's performance - but the discourse that Benedict XVI addressed to the "China Philharmonic Orchestra" and to the "Shanghai Opera House Chorus", which performed Mozart's Requiem Mass in D minor at the Vatican, was a message to China, and even more to its government.

This government certainly appreciated the Vatican's care not to issue formal invitations to the diplomatic corps, thus avoiding the official presence of the ambassador of Taiwan in the Paul VI hall, where the concert was performed "in honour of the Holy Father Benedict XVI", as the Vatican specified.  With all due respect to those representatives of the government and of the patriotic association who tried to depict today's event as a "stop" in the orchestra's European tour.  And even if in the words of the orchestra's conductor there was a reference to the "harmonious society" dear to the leadership of the communist party, there seemed to be an homage to the pope in the affirmation that "the repertoire for this evening at the Papal city reflects the value of every man and woman in the world, regardless of cultural differences, in the spirit of peace and love".

Of course, everything began with the music, which in the words of both the pope and of maestro Long Yu, who conducted the performance, is a "privileged instrument for encounter and reciprocal knowledge and esteem between different populations and cultures".  And the pope - who loves to play the piano - paid homage to the music by going up onto the stage to greet the orchestra, which repaid the favour with a beautiful song from Turandot.  But Benedict XVI also saw in the music the means to "understand better the history of the Chinese people, their values and their noble aspirations".  At the same time, he noted "with pleasure the interest shown by your orchestra and choir in European religious music. This", he added, "shows that it is possible, in different cultural settings, to enjoy and appreciate sublime manifestations of the spirit such as Mozart’s Requiem which we have just heard, precisely because music expresses universal human sentiments, including the religious sentiment, which transcends the boundaries of every individual culture".

It was a short step from this point to present the image that the Church wants Beijing to recognise, and, naturally without naming it, the right to religious freedom.  "I should also like to say a word", Benedict XVI said, "regarding this place where we have come together this evening. It is the great hall in which the Pope receives his guests and meets those who come to visit him. It is like a window opening onto the world, a place where people from all over the world often meet, with their own personal stories and their own culture, all of them welcomed with esteem and affection.  In greeting you this evening, dear Chinese artists, the Pope intends to reach out to your entire people, with a special thought for those of your fellow citizens who share faith in Jesus and are united through a particular spiritual bond with the Successor of Peter. The Requiem came into being through this faith as a prayer to God, the just and merciful judge, and that is why it touches the hearts of all people, as an expression of humanity’s universal aspirations".

And, before expressing a wish "for every good" in Chinese, the pope sent his "greetings, through you, to all the people of China as they prepare for the Olympic Games, an event of great importance for the entire human family".

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