Rome (AsiaNews) - Returning to the Vatican, Pope Francis sent another telegram to the new President Xi Jinping: "Returning to Rome after my visit to Korea, I wish to renew to your excellency and your fellow citizens the assurance of my best wishes, as I invoke divine blessings upon your land ". It appears that the first telegram, sent during his flight to Seoul, did not arrive "for technical reasons" and thus no response was issued. The second seemed destined to meet with the same fate until mid-morning, several hours after it was sent. Xinhua did not report on it even though it made global headlines. It should be said however that Xinhua, which thus far had failed to publish a single article on the Papal trip to Korea, this morning published a small piece on the conclusion of the visit and one million faithful attending the beatification of the Korean Martyrs.
The question now on everyone's lips is whether Pope Francis' "olive branch" to China marks a "new line" in relations between the Holy See and Beijing.
Speaking yesterday to the Asian bishops, the pontiff frankly stated that he "earnestly" hopes that "those countries of your continent with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all" adding in unscripted remarks: "I'm not speaking here only about political dialogue, but a fraternal dialogue. These Christians do not come as conquerors, they are not trying to erase our identity".
The desperately outstretched hand and tendency to walk without defences and in friendship, has provoked some to comment that finally, with this Latin American Pope, the pontiff is no longer presented "an expression of Western power." Maybe ... But maybe it is worth remembering that John Paul II set himself against the entire Western world in his opposition to the war in Iraq against of Saddam Hussein and that Benedict XVI, in his famous speech in Regensburg, lashed out against a Western culture that seeks to dominate the world with rationalism and technology.
No, I believe that there is a continuity in the Pope's actions: His offering the Churches' experience in healing humanity's wounds and helping to bring the cultures of the peoples to self-realization, by being open, defenceless and unarmed. This is the path of Matteo Ricci and the many missionaries of the past and present in China. If there is something new in what Francis is doing then it is the patience with which he once again offers a brotherly friendship to a people and its leaders. In addition there is also his relativizing of the political dialogue, these long sought diplomatic relations, as if the future of the Church in China depended solely on these.
To see if Beijing will also embark on a "new line" we will have to wait a few days maybe sooner: its not a question of whether Xi Jinping responds to the (second) papal telegram, but if the young people who participated in the Asian Youth Day in Korea will be persecuted.
Until last February, their participation was taken for granted. When the Pope announced that he would go to Korea, especially from July onwards, there was a systematic attempt by the United Front, Religious Affairs Bureau, provincial and local authorities to persuade, threaten, and prohibit those who wanted to participate. The authorities exerted pressure on their families, employers, school and college principals to ensure that young people would not go to the Asian Youth Day, "encounter the pope and receive instructions from him". Some members of the government have even accused the young people of want to participate in "illegal religious activities".
These young Chinese boys and girls went to Korea, overcoming a slalom of prohibitions and received "instructions from the Pope," that of "fraternal dialogue" and charity and friendship towards all. I ask, are these "crimes" punishable by arrest?
I believe that any "new line" of China will be measured by how China treats these young people. If they encounter trouble, imprisonment, problems at work and in school - as they fear - then, there is still an "old line" in China, even if Xi Jinping responds to the Papal telegram.