Pope Francis reiterates his affection for China and Xi Jinping

The pontiff praises China’s "wisdom" and "greatness", and sends greetings to Xi Jinping for Chinese New Year, which marks the start of the Year of the Monkey. He also says that we “must not be fearful” of China, but engage the country in dialogue to preserve world peace. He urges "mercy" for the country’s recent past and action forward to change reality. In the interview, the journalist chose not to mention the dialogue between the Vatican and China or religious issues.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – In an interview with Asia Times, Pope Francis expressed his love and admiration for China’s "greatness", its "great culture",  its "inexhaustible wisdom", inviting the world "not to be fearful" of this great nation’s growth, and its " great richness of culture and wisdom,” but to seek a “true balance of peace” through dialogue.

The pontiff took the opportunity to send his Best Wishes to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the people of China for the upcoming lunar New Year on 8 February, which marks the start of the Year of the Monkey.

This is not the first time that a pontiff sends his Best Wishes to the Chinese people, nor the first that Pope Francis expresses his affection for China and its people. Since he became pope three years ago, he told journalist about his  great respect for the Chinese people and its wisdom during his travels in Korea, the Philippines, Cuba and the United States.

Several media have covered the ongoing dialogue between China and the Vatican, the agreements on the appointment of bishops, and the goal of reconciliation. Yet, these issues were never mentioned in the long series of questions and answers.

Journalist Francesco Sisci’s interview covers “broad cultural and philosophical issues concerning” the Chinese people” but he avoided “religious or political issues, of which other popes, at other times had spoken.”

Asked about China’s “unprecedented challenges for itself and for the world,” the Holy Father said that the latter should not be “afraid” and that they should instead have the courage to reach out to each other.  “The Western world, the Eastern world and China all have the capacity to maintain the balance of peace and the strength to do so. We must find the way, always through dialogue; there is no other way.”

On the suggestion of the journalist, the pontiff focused on one of the tragedies the Chinese people experienced "in recent decades,” namely the country’s one-child policy and aging population. Comparing China to what he calls “Grandmother Europe,” he said that he hopes that China, against a past and a future of “lights and shadows,” will look at its history with "mercy".

“It is healthy for a person to have mercy towards himself, not to be sadistic or masochistic. [. . .] I don’t know whether or not to use the word forgiveness, I don’t know. But to accept that this was my path, to smile, and to keep going. If one gets tired and stops, one can become bitter and corrupt.”

In one of the interview’s most meaningful moments, the journalist described China’s situation, its "economic growth," its "human and environmental disasters," its families "separated due to the demands of work" in order to ask the pontiff for a message addressed to China.

Jokingly, Francis answered saying that he felt like a "mother-in-law," giving advice. He urged the Chinese to “be realistic, [. . .] reconciled with reality,” and “work to improve reality and to change its direction,” because the “great richness of China today lies in looking to the future from a present that is sustained by the memory of its cultural past”. As in “football, the goalkeeper must catch the ball from wherever it comes,” and not “be like an ostrich, that hides its head in the sand so as not to see reality".

Indirectly, the pontiff seems to be offering China a two-part proposal: going beyond today’s situation and accept help “from wherever it comes” (perhaps even from the Catholic Church).

At the end of the interview, Francis offered his Best Wishes for the Chinese New Year, which this year marks the start of the Year of the Monkey.

“On the eve of the New Year,” he said, “I wish to convey my best wishes and greetings to President Xi Jinping and to all the Chinese people. And I wish to express my hope that they never lose their historical awareness of being a great people, with a great history of wisdom, and that they have much to offer to the world. The world looks to this great wisdom of yours. In this New Year, with this awareness, may you continue to go forward in order to help and cooperate with everyone in caring for our common home and our common peoples. Thank you!”