09/04/2023, 11.08
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Francis' theological hope in dialogue with China from Ulan Bator

by Gianni Criveller *

Fr. Gianni Criveller, PIME missionary and sinologist, comments on the words addressed by the pope yesterday to the Chinese people from Mongolia, with Card. Tong and Cardinal-designate Chow. "There is no contradiction between being good Christians and good citizens when there is freedom. Now it is up to Beijing to follow up with concrete steps on issues such as the permanent form of dialogue urged by Card. Parolin or the peace mission of Card. Zuppi."

Milan (AsiaNews) - For those who love China and its church, it was moving to see Pope Francis call Hong Kong's bishop emeritus and ordinary, Card. John Tong and Cardinal-designate Stephen Chow, to him at the end of Mass. Through them the Pope sent “a warm greeting to the noble Chinese people. To all the people I wish the best, and to move forward, always progress".

About 200 Chinese Catholics in Mongolia, travelling from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao, and some also from mainland China, despite the difficulties involved and the impossibility for the bishops of China to travel to meet Pope Francis.

The Pope added: “I ask Chinese Catholics to be good Christians and good citizens. To everyone". The Pope's words are a transparent reminder of the government policy which requires Catholics to "love their country and love their religion". The Pope reversed the order, I don't know whether consciously or not: first good Christians and then good citizens. Naturally the two things go together: when lived in freedom they are never in opposition.

The Pope had greeted, as is customary, Chinese President Xi Jinping as he flew over China's airspace. The Pope's words evoked blessings for well-being, unity and peace. The answer came from the Foreign Ministry spokesman. China "is ready to continue working with the Vatican to engage in constructive dialogue, improve understanding, strengthen mutual trust to improve relations between the two countries".

These are important words, but on the condition that they are followed by concrete steps. Card. Pietro Parolin recently called for a permanent form of dialogue based in Beijing; the bishop of Beijing Li Shan called for diplomatic relations; Card. Matteo Maria Zuppi is probing a trip to Beijing as part of his action for peace in Ukraine, on behalf of Pope Francis himself. So there is no shortage of opportunities for the government to implement what has been declared.

I wrote that it is moving to see our elderly and tried pontiff push himself so generously as far as Mongolia, and launch signals of peace and dialogue to the Chinese authorities from there. Even if the concrete answers have not been encouraging so far, the Pope believes in dialogue, he believes in it with a hope that I would define as theological, that is, that comes from his faith in God, who guides history and changes the hearts of men.

Hong Kong bishop Stephen Chow, soon to be made cardinal, clearly plays an increasingly significant role in relations between the Vatican and China. He will also participate in the Synod. For me personally, it was exciting to see the now elderly but still healthy Cardinal John Tong, with whom I worked daily for more than 20 years, alongside the pope. A man of peace, moderation and dialogue.

The second emeritus of Hong Kong, the beloved Card. Joseph Zen, is too old and ill to travel. In any case he would have been unable to leave Hong Kong due to the withdrawal of his passport and an investigation pending against him. In recent days, 91-year-old Card Zen had entrusted a moving message to an evangelical weekly in Hong Kong speaking of how illness prevents him from continuing visits to prison. He had spoken to Pope Francis about these visits at the historic and fraternal meeting in Santa Marta last 6 January.

Today is the last day of the Pope's visit to Mongolia, a peripheral country with few Catholics. I am internally convinced that the Pope went to Mongolia above all to meet the people and the small Church of that country and not for any other purpose, even if it were that of China. In the heart of the Pope and the Church there are no important or less important countries; Catholic communities are not measured by the number of faithful. In every circumstance, in every place, the Pope and the Church sow the good seed of the Gospel of peace.

* PIME missionary and sinologist, director of the PIME mission center in Milan

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