09/01/2021, 17.19
VATICAN – CHINA
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On China, Francis says no to giving up dialogue

In the interview with Spanish Radio COPE, the Pope spoke at length about the agreement with China on episcopal appointments. “These are steps that can be questionable and the results on one side or the other.”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Pope Francis gave an interview with Spanish Radio COPE that was broadcast today. In it he talked about many issues, including China.

For the pontiff, the steps taken and the results achieved in talks between the Holy See and China may be questioned on both sides, but he is convinced that dialogue must continue. He also noted that the policy of openness vis-à-vis Communist eastern Europe pursued by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli was a source of inspiration for him.

When the interviewer asked him about doubts expressed within the Catholic Church about renewing the agreement with China on episcopal appointments, Francis said:

“Even when I was a layman and priest, I loved to show the way to the bishop; it is a temptation that I would even say is licit if it is done with good will. China is not easy, but I am convinced that we should not give up dialogue. You can be deceived in dialogue, you can make mistakes, all that... but it is the way.”

“What has been achieved so far in China was at least dialogue... some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly... But these are also steps that can be questionable and the results on one side or the other.”

The pope reiterated that “the key figure in all this and who helps me and inspires me is Cardinal Casaroli” who was “was the man John XXIII commissioned to build bridges with Central Europe.”[*] To make his point, Francis expressly quoted from the cardinal's memoirs titled The martyrdom of patience.

“[I]t was small step after small step, creating bridges,” he said. “Slowly, slowly, slowly, he was achieving reserves of diplomatic relations which in the end meant appointing new bishops and taking care of God’s faithful people. Today, somehow, we have to follow these paths of dialogue step by step in the most conflictive situations.”

Broadening his gaze, he noted that this is the same path followed with the Muslim world. “My experience in dialogue with Islam, for example, with the Grand Imam al-Tayeb[†] was very positive in this, and I am very grateful to him. It was like the germ of Fratelli tutti afterward. But dialogue, always dialogue, or to be willing to dialogue.”

Pope Francis’s radio interview comes a few weeks after the ordination of Mgr Li Hui as coadjutor bishop of Pingliang (Gansu), which took place on July 28.

This is the third ordination after the renewal of the Sino-Vatican agreement on episcopal appointments, which took place in October 2020.

In the meantime however, the fate of Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang in Hebei remains unknown. The prelate was arrested along with 10 religious and 10 seminarians (later released) for refusing to join the "independent" Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

To know more about the pope's reference to Cardinal Casaroli and Ostpolitik, it may be useful to re-read an important three-part analysis of that troubled period published a few years ago by AsiaNews. The author, Professor Stefano Caprio, teaches Russian history and culture at the Pontifical Oriental Institute. (Click here for Part One, Two and Three.)


[*] Card Casaroli was Secretary of State when the Vatican pursued a policy of openness (Ostpolitik) vis-à-vis Communist eastern Europe.

[†] The Pope and the Grand Imam of al Azhar signed the Document on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi.

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