07/05/2007, 00.00
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China needs the Catholic Church, says Taiwan’s Ambassador Tou

Taiwan’s envoy to the Holy See talks to AsiaNews about the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics “as a Catholic” and “as ambassador.”

Rome (AsiaNews) – “As a Catholic I was deeply moved” by the Pope’s letter, said Tou Chouseng, ambassador of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the Holy See. The diplomat, who was baptised into the Catholic faith last year in Rome, talked to AsiaNews about the publication of Benedict XVI’s letter to Chinese Catholics. Commenting the first official reactions in the mainland to the Pontiff’s message, he said that they were just the “usual way” which shows Beijing’s difficulty of guaranteeing the Church real religious freedom.

Taiwan’s ambassador ends on a note of advice: “If President Hu Jintao really wants to build a ‘harmonious society’ he can’t do it with the Catholic Church” given its two-thousand-year old experience in serving the masses of the poor, the elderly and students.

Here is the interview with Ambassador Tou Chouseng in its entirety:

What is your impression of the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics?

Let me give you first my impression as a Catholic. I was deeply moved when I was reading the Pope’s letter. It is a real masterpiece that clearly and exhaustively shows the spiritual nature of the Church.

Benedict XVI wants the People’s Republic, the world’s most populous country, to respect the Catholic Church. He said that the Holy See and Catholics are deeply respectful of political authority but at the same time ask that the government respect their religious experience.

The Pontiff is also very close to the faithful’s suffering, whose life is tightly controlled or who are directly persecuted. He shows both the official and the underground Church the way towards reconciliation and this represents a great deal of hope for the life of the Church and China.

I was really moved by the Pope’s sincerity. He is so delicate towards the faithful, their suffering and mission, almost like trying to wipe away their tears. At the same time, he is full of respect and love for the political authorities that it is a wonder.

And as the ambassador of the Republic of China (Taiwan)?

The issue of Taiwan is not addressed in the letter. But all the negative things he mentions have positive counterexamples in Taiwan: religious freedom, Episcopal ordinations, no persecution. All the difficulties that the Pontiff listed and that the Church encounters in the mainland do not exist on Taiwan. As a Taiwanese I hope Beijing responds positively to Benedict XVI’s open appeal.

The foreign ministry’s spokesperson in Beijing reacted to the Pope’s letter in its usual way, focusing on the mainland’s two preconditions (breaking off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and non interference in China’s internal affairs under the guise of religion). But I’d like to tell them that no one is so naïve. What would Beijing give in return if the Holy See broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan? It is fair to believe that China wants relations with the Vatican only to isolate Taiwan. There is a great risk that once relations are cut China won’t change its position on religious freedom.

As we know the real obstacle is the leadership in Beijing. We don’t know whether they actually want to respect religious freedom or prefer the status quo in which the state controls everything. If Beijing were to allow Catholics to have a regular relationship with the Pope and if the local Church cold freely be a part of the Universal Church, every problem would be solved.

Actually many more problems would be solved in China. If Beijing allowed the Church to work in peace and freedom, it could see how good the Church’s services are to the poor, the elderly, the left-out, students. I saw this in my country. In Taiwan everyone appreciates the Church’s involvement in schools or hospices. If President Hu Jintao really wants to build a “harmonious society” he can’t do it with the Catholic Church.

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