A researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences comments on Francis’ words about the Asian country: "pleasant" references to respect for the culture and for the people, "surprising" the absence of any reference to religious matters. The faithful have some doubts, but they hope that their fears will soon be allayed.
Beijing (AsiaNews) -A few days ago, the media once again reported about a possible agreement on the appointment of Chinese bishops reached at a recent China-Vatican negotiation. What about the "illegitimate bishops" and the future destiny of the underground bishops who are not recognized by the Chinese government? What is the method of selecting bishops in future? These are the questions much concerned by the faithful of the Catholic Church in China. At this sensitive moment, on February 2, the Hong Kong-based Asia Times published Francesco Sisci’s exclusive interview with Pope Francis, which was both delightful and surprising. It was delightful because Pope Francis spoke at a time before the lunar Chinese New Year. As always, he highly praised the Chinese culture and the Chinese people and expressed the Catholic Church’s great respect for Chinese culture, and the Church was willing to be like Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci to walk in the path of dialogue with Chinese culture. Pope Francis, through this interview, extended his Chinese New Year greetings to the great Chinese people and to President Xi Jinping of the People's Republic of China.
The Pope replied to questions raised by the journalist on economy and environment of social problems in China, but did not mention any political and religious issues or about China and the Holy See negotiations. In mainland China, most of the Catholic clergy and faithful, due to their limitations in language, could not read the English text directly, and had to count on the Chinese-language media or the Chinese-language brief reports of foreign media in order to understand the content of this interview. Moreover, under the current China-Vatican contact with a background of possibly having reached an agreement on bishop appointment, the interview did not mention a word about the situation of Catholic Church in China and the China-Vatican contact. It was quite surprising and disappointing to the Catholics in China, as if they did not get their leader the Holy Father’s care and concern. Such reaction was seen in some Catholic media reports and the comments by web-users of the Catholic websites in mainland China.
In his interview, Pope Francis reiterated his goodwill and admiration toward China and the Chinese people. As a general practice, China would respond to the Pope’s interview through its spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, instead of speaking through their own national leaders. And for this interview of the Pope, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson responded, and as always, nothing new. In recent years, in major religious festivals, such as Christians’ Christmas, Muslims’ Eid al-Fitr, the State Administration of Religious Affairs would openly expressed greetings to the respective faithful greetings. The Chinese leaders were never seen to respond to the greetings of any world religious leaders, but certainly except when meeting face-to-face.
Besides, the Vatican Radio, a media trusted by mainland Catholics, reported the Pope interviewed by Asia Times. The report translated Pope Francis’ original expression of “an inexhaustible wisdom” of China’s wisdom and “this great history of wisdom” as “extraordinary wisdom” (超凡绝伦的智慧). This caused many faithful and priests puzzled. After all, the views and arguments of Chinese cultural tradition are diverse, already known to all.
According to media reports, over the past year or so, China and the Vatican on matters related to the Catholic Church in China had held talks three times. However, the Church in China being the subject of the talks but are not clear about the talks, and could only rely on the reports of the media. The Catholics in China have longed to know if it is possible to reach an agreement and its content, and the future of the Church in China. However, the fact that the Pope’s interview mentioned nothing of this concern not only let the Catholics in China feel disappointed, but also intensified their fears and helplessness. I hope this anxiety is only resembles the fear of a pregnant woman in labor who is expecting good news of the arrival of her baby. The Catholics in China do expect good tidings of concrete improvement in China-Vatican relations to come.