10/21/2017, 12.43
CHINA - VATICAN

Wang Zuoan: Pope Francis is sincere, but he has to submit to two conditions

Li Yuan

In an interview with Commercial Radio, the director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs reiterated the urgency of cutting relations with Taiwan and not interfere in China's domestic affairs, including religion. Fang Xinyao and Ma Yinglin, two bishops present at the party congress, heap praise on Xi Jinping's speech. Others warn against “fake pastors but real slaves”. An underground Catholic expresses his fears.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – A senior Beijing official has lauded the friendly attitude of Pope Francis, who made repeated appeals on his wish to visit China, but also setting bottom line on China-Vatican relations in an interview with a Hong Kong media published on Oct 21.

Wang Zuoan, director of State Administration of Religious Affairs, gave a written reply to the Commercial Radio on the sideline of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, where General Secretary Xi Jinping reaffirms the direction of Sinicization of religions in the opening session on Oct 18.

Wang told the Commercial Radio that Pope Francis has expressed his tribute to the Chinese leaders and the people through various means while the Chinese government has always been sincere, and has made real efforts, in improving China-Vatican relations.

However, Wang also reiterated China’s two “consistent and clear principles” in dealing with China-Vatican relations, that is, the Vatican must sever the so-called "diplomatic relations" with Taiwan and not to interfere in China's internal affairs, including not to interfere in the name of religious affairs.

Since assuming papacy in 2013, Pope Francis has for several times made public his wish to visit Beijing, including twice in his in-flight press conferences and in an interview with Spanish media El País in January 2017, in which the Pope said he would like to visit China "as soon as they send me an invitation."

But church observers saw his tone changed a bit when Pope Francis said in another in-flight press conference in Oct 2016 that “I would like to but I don't think so yet” when asked if he would make a trip to China as well as during the Angelus on May 22, 2017 when the Pope asked faithful to pray to the Mother Mary “to help us discern God's will regarding the concrete path of the church in China.”

The Commercial Radio described Wang’s interview as a rare positive attitude towards the Pope's visit to China from the China authority. However, Chinese Catholics in and outside China detested Wang’s remarks, especially after the two bishops who participated the Communist congress as special guests published congratulatory remarks to the congress.

In his work report, Xi said the Party will fully implement its basic policy on religious work, “uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation, and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society.”

Bishop Fang Xinyao, a Vatican-approved bishop who chairs the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said Xi’s remark provides a fundamental base and points out clearly the way forward for the future development of the China Church.

Bishop Ma Yinglin, an illicit bishop who heads the bishops’ conference, said Xi’s report on the work of the past five years was very informative and realistic while his grand blueprint for the future is inspiring. Ma called on the Catholic sector to study earnestly the spirit of the congress report while combined with actual work of the Church to realize the goals with all people in China.

“The Chinese government could speak boastfully as it is now powerful. If the Pope visits China, we underground community will have to be ready for crackdown,” said a lay Catholic in Hebei.

“But if we make any noise against it, some people would attack us again that we are not listening to the Pope,” said another underground layman.

In Hong Kong, John Mok, a Catholic commentator on public affairs, wrote on his Facebook, “If the China-Vatican negotiation is to recognize these fake pastors but real slaves, what is the use of it?” But there are other Catholics who agree to continue to dialogue to remove misunderstanding between the two parties.

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