05/13/2019, 11.34
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Vatican Secretary of State gives first ever interview to a Chinese Party newspaper

by Bernardo Cervellera

The interview with Card. Parolin was published yesterday evening at 11.53pm on the Global Times website. For the publisher it is a sign of "positive developments" in China-Vatican relations. Card Parolin sends a fraternal embrace above all to "those who have suffered the most and continue to suffer".

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - A photo of Pope Francis smiling, an ambitious headline ("Pope Francis sees China as a great country, says a cardinal"): This is the front page article on the Global Times, the Beijing newspaper, linked to the "People's Daily," the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party. It is the first time in the history of the newspaper, and perhaps of China, for such a wide-ranging interview with a cardinal and what’s more, the Vatican Secretary of State, Card. Pietro Parolin.

The publisher's note explains that it is "a sign of positive developments in China-Vatican relations" confirmed by the "peaceful recent Easter celebrations" - perhaps with reference to the tensions successfully avoided in Mindong - and the "Vatican representation at the International Horticulture Exhibition".

The interview is by Francesco Sisci and Zhang Yu. Sisci is the journalist who interviewed Pope Francis about China three years ago, in a conversation that touched on everything except the situation of the Church in China. This time, however, Card. Parolin speaks of some problems experienced by the Church in China and also hints at the intentions underlying the Sino-Vatican agreement, for the " for the benefit of the entire Chinese Catholic community, which I embrace fraternally - above all those who have suffered most and continue to suffer."

The first question in the interview focuses on how the Sino-Vatican dialogue proceeds. The Secretary of State underlines that there is a "an increased trust between the two sides" and states that this dialogue - according to the teaching of Pope Francis - does not want to discuss theories concerning the respective systems “instead we are looking for practical solutions which concern the lives of real people who desire to practice their faith peacefully and offer a positive contribution to their own country.”

The second question concerns "opposition" to this dialogue. The interviewer quotes "opponents within the Church". In reply, Card. Parolin finds it obvious that there are "criticisms", and they "may arise in the church or in China or from elsewhere". Indeed, it is well known that the strongest (and most violent) criticism of the agreement comes from China itself, and from the Religious Affairs Office and from the United Front, which are implementing a campaign of control over bishops, priests, places of worship , "Despite the Sino-Vatican agreement" (as stated by their proclamations).

Card Parolin observes ", it seems to me human and Christian to show understanding, attention and respect for those who express such criticism... Many questions still need to be addressed and we are facing them with willingness and determination ". The desire is to "find enduring solutions, which are acceptable to, and respectful of all concerned ".

The Cardinal also cites criticisms of a completely different kind: those “which come from prejudiced positions and which seem to seek to preserve old geopolitical balances ". For the publisher this is the most interesting part, which gives the title to the whole interview. The Cardinal says: " For Pope Francis - who is well aware of all that has happened even in the recent past - the main interest in the ongoing dialogue is on the pastoral level: he is making a great act of trust and respect for the Chinese people and their culture of millennia, with the well-founded hope of receiving an equally sincere and positive response."

Further on - in response to the seventh question - Card. Parolin reiterates that Pope Francis "sees China not only as a great country but also as a great culture, rich in history and wisdom. Today China has come to arouse great attention and interest everywhere, especially among young people." And he hopes that China "will not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the wider world " and “will be able to overcome mistrust and build a more secure and prosperous world ".

The cardinal's words recall those of Pope Francis in the letter he sent to Xi Jinping in 2014, when the pontiff expressed his positive vision towards China and towards a multipolar world, which concluded with the parable of a world subjugated by one superpower. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the interview with Card. Parolin was published a few hours after the failure of trade negotiations between the United States and China, in which two styles and two ways of seeing the international economy clash.

Keeping to the more strictly ecclesial, it is important to point out the difference between "inculturation" and "sinicization". With regards the first term, Card. Parolin quotes Matteo Ricci and recalls that it is a presentation of faith " according to the particular experience of each people and culture". Sinicization - but this is not explained in the interview - is a campaign launched by the Party to submit religions to Chinese culture to make them instruments of the Party itself. The Secretary of State asks the Chinese leadership the ability to reaffirm their willingness “not to undermine the nature and the doctrine of each religion". Expressing the possibility that through dialogue inculturation and sinicization "can be complementary", he claims that "the main actors of this commitment are Chinese Catholics" (and not the Party or the United Front).

The answers to the fourth and fifth questions trace possible fields of collaboration between the Holy See and China. The Cardinal cites  “peace, the fight against poverty, environmental and climatic emergencies, migration, the ethics of scientific development and the economic and social progress of peoples. It is of primary importance for the Holy See that in all these areas the dignity of the human person be placed at the center, beginning with the real recognition of his or her fundamental rights, among which is the right to religious freedom, and the common good, which is the good of each and everyone".

Asked for a "what he would say" to "political leaders", the Cardinal asked them "not be afraid to lift their gaze, beyond immediate success, to seek lasting and far-reaching solutions without preconditions which can contribute to building a more humane, more just and more worthy future for everyone”.

The penultimate question, the sixth, asks the Card. Parolin to share "his most powerful and beautiful memory" of all these years of dialogue with Chinese representatives. The Cardinal replies saying that the most beautiful occasions were "spent moments of familiarity and friendship together, allowing us to get to know one other and to appreciate each other more and, in the end, to share the humanity that unites us beyond the differences that exist between us”.

"These are situations - he concluded - that have a profound value in themselves, but which were also useful in creating a more favorable atmosphere during the negotiations."

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