Ma congratulates pope, expects better ties

By Mo Yan-chih and Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  Staff reporters, With Reuters

Fri, Mar 15, 2013 - Page 1

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday sent his congratulations to the newly elected Pope Francis and said he expected Taiwan and the Vatican to deepen diplomatic relations and contribute to peace around the world.

In a congratulatory telegraph, Ma expressed his hope that the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, would lead people around the world to promote peace and defend social justice.

He said he believed that the two nations could deepen their religious, academic and cultural partnership “under the wise leadership of the new pope.”

Ma said the Taiwanese government would also continue to play the role of a “peace maker” and humanitarian aid provider in the international community.

The Republic of China and the Vatican established diplomatic ties in 1942. The Vatican is one of the nation’s 23 diplomatic allies.

Minister of Foreign Affairs David Lin (林永樂) also offered congratulations to the Vatican’s top envoy to Taiwan, Monsignor Paul Russell, when they met at a reception to celebrate the opening of the Tuvaluan embassy in Taipei.

Lin said the government would send an official delegation to attend Pope Francis’ inauguration Mass on Tuesday.

Lin stopped short of saying who will be the president’s envoy to lead the delegation and said details were still being finalized.

In 2005, then-minister of the interior Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) served as then-president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) special envoy to pope Benedict XVI’s investiture.

Lin did not give a positive answer when he was asked if first lady Chow Mei-ching (周美青) would lead the delegation.

Russell, the charge d’affaires of the Holy See, expressed confidence that the relationship between the Holy See and Taiwan would move forward under the leadership of the new pope.

The Holy See and Taiwan have a longstanding relationship and share many fundamental values in common — love of peace, respect for human rights, religious freedom, democracy and concern for the poor, Russell said.

“Whenever there is a disaster in the world and the pope has made an appeal for solidarity in the international community, Taiwan always responds with donations to help these people who are suffering,” Russell said.

He said the new pope is a man of great humanity and simplicity.

“Pope Francis is a very holy, faithful and humble person. News reports said that he does not go around in an official car, [he] just takes public transportation. He lives in a very simple way, and even cooks for himself,” he said.

Meanwhile, Beijing maintained its hard line on relations with the Vatican, urging it to take the initiative and end diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

“We are sincere in wanting to improve relations,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying (華春瑩) said, offering congratulations to Pope Francis.

However, the Vatican “must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion,” Hua said, adding that the Holy See must end diplomatic recognition of Taiwan.

“We hope that the Catholic Church, under the leadership of the new pope, can work hard together with China and create beneficial conditions for improving relations,” she said.