10/03/2005, 00.00
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The sisters of Mother Teresa are waiting for Beijing's permission to open a home in China

Rome (AsiaNews) – The sisters of Mother Teresa have written a letter to the Beijing government and are awaiting a reply about opening a home in China.  This according to the superior of the Missionaries of Charity, Sr Nirmala Joshi, in speaking to AsiaNews.  In case of an affirmative reply, the sisters of Mother Teresa will be the first international Catholic congregation, since the times of Mao Zedong, to officially establish a location in the People's Republic.

Significantly, it was the government of China which asked to the sisters to go to China.  "They asked us to go; for our part, we are glad to go," Sr Nirmala said.  The sister who succeeded Mother Teresa at the helm of the Sisters of Charity told AsiaNews that they had been contacted last April by a Chinese government official who suggested that they open a home in China.  Beijing was still smarting at the time from the poor figure it cut for being absent from John Paul II's funeral.  Sr Nirmala thinks that, in making this suggestion, China wished to "take a step towards opening diplomatic relations with the Vatican."

When Benedict XVI heard of the news, he encouraged the sisters to accept and visit China.  In mid-July, Sister Nirmala went to China to look into the possibility of opening a home.  On July 16, accompanied by two sisters and a priest, Sr Nirmala visited Qingdao (Shandong), at the invitation of the government and the local bishop, Monsignor Joseph Li Mingshu.  The sisters made plans to open a home for the elderly.  On the bishop's advice, Sr Nirmala wrote a letter to the Chinese government and has been waiting for a reply since.  "Pray for us," Sr Nirmala said to AsiaNews, "that we may be able to go to China and serve those who are most abandoned."

Questioned by AsiaNews, Monsignor Li said that "With respect to the past, there is currently a climate of greater openness and tranquility around this question."  The bishop also added that "if the sisters have not received a reply, there is perhaps some difficulty", referring to the fact that "there are no diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican."

The fact that, in August, Chinese newspapers published news of Sister Nirmala's visit and the Beijing government's request to her indicates of a "favourable climate."

"This possibility," Sister Nirmala says, "is work that Mother Teresa is doing from heaven."  Mother Teresa visited China three times, asking to open a home and to take care of the "poorest of the poor".  But her request was turned down on all three occasions.  Once, a Party official told her that "there are no poor" in China.

Mother Teresa's congregation had a role in "breaking the ice" in relations between the Vatican and Russia, and between the Vatican and Cambogia: her sisters were the first to open a home in Moscow and Phnom Penh, after a long period of persecution and the lack of religious freedom in those two countries.
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