02/05/2016, 12.11
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Pope’s interview on China: enthusiasm and skepticism among Chinese Catholics. Some priests face police pressure

by Maria Chen

State newspapers and radio report on Pope Francis’ interview with Asia Times. There are those who dream of an impending papal visit to China. Underground priests subjected to interrogation. Appreciation for "the olive branch" extended by the Pope and for his pointing out the value of Chinese culture. But skepticism surrounds Beijing leadership’s response. The dialogue between China and the Vatican cannot bring results, because there are different interests at play, both political and religious. Diplomatic relations cannot come at the cost of the freedom of the Church and the sacrifices of its martyrs. The Chinese Church is growing.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Many Chinese Catholics have expressed enthusiasm for the interview that Pope Francis gave to the Asia Times, full of praise for Chinese culture and sending best wishes to Xi Jinping and his people for the New Year.

Others are skeptical and believe that the Pope’s friendly gesture will not garner a response because "the Chinese government is too smart". AsiaNews has been unable to contact some priests of the underground Church who reveal that some have been subjected for days to interrogation sessions with the police, after having participated in catechesis meetings.

Everyone links the interview to ongoing dialogue between China and the Vatican. Some are hoping that Pope Francis will soon travel to China. But others are pessimistic and say that any compromise with the Communist Party of China will lead to a loss of freedom of the Church.

All the people interviewed asked to remain anonymous.

A young Shanghai lay Catholic states that the Pope’s new year wishes to Xi Jinping will have a good impact because Francis has expressed a great love for China. "Through this interview - he says - we feel united to him, the representative of Jesus Christ on earth. He was wise to show this great extension of friendship: Any direct criticism of the Chinese government can only cause harm to the Church. His kind attitude reveals that he is a true pastor. We all really hope that the Pope could visit China one day".

A priest from Xian Province (Shaanxi) is more skeptical. He says: "Although the Pope has good intentions in offering an olive branch to China, I do not think that will work. It is very difficult to change the way the Chinese government controls the Church, even with the Pope’s sweet words. All the soothing words and flattery will not create any difference in government. Pope Francis praised the wisdom of Chinese culture and history, but in reality, this society is without morals. Today's generation has lost the cultural roots thanks to heavy policies of recent years. For this, these kind words will not help the situation today. "

A young man in central China was impressed that several newspapers and even state radio cited the interview, but - he says - "what the Pope expresses is not what the authorities want."

"Pope Francis took this step because he wants to meet with Chinese leaders. His is a crucial and necessary gesture, that gives importance to the authorities. In this sense, the Pope has done very well. Speaking of wisdom, the Chinese values, ​​maybe he can move the government. But until now it has shown no interest in Chinese culture. I fear that this will have no influence on the diplomatic dialogue. The two parties do not meet: the Pope seeks a dialogue from a religious point of view; Beijing seeks only a political dialogue and wants the Holy See to endorse its absolute power".

Speaking of diplomatic dialogue and the search for agreements between China and the Holy See, a Jilin priest said: "The Chinese Communists are very smart and know how to run the show. They do not want to lose control over the Church in China. Negotiations to establish diplomatic relations are important and necessary, but in order to obtain them the Vatican should not sacrifice the rights of the Church. There are so many Catholics who have suffered for their faith in all these decades. The Vatican should not ignore these situations. There is no need to hurry in establishing diplomatic relations. Rushing can lead to too many compromises. It would be far better to take all the time necessary to work on the issues, not content with a result that is good only in appearance. What’s more important is the fact that although the Church suffers from controls and difficulties, it is growing".

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