The Chinese government should not fear “distrust or hostility” from the Roman Catholic Church, a top Vatican official said, amid speculation over whether Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) would meet Pope Francis this week.
Senior Vatican sources have said that Francis is willing to meet Xi and that intermediaries had made overtures to the Vatican, but the Chinese side had not yet formally asked for a meeting.
Any encounter would be the first between a Chinese leader and a pope.
Xi’s visit, starting on Thursday, is his first to Italy following a historic agreement in September last year between the Vatican and the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops in China.
Beijing cut diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951 and has remained concerned that an independent church in China could threaten its authority.
“The Holy See [nurtures] no distrust or hostility toward any country,” Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote in the introduction of a new book on China to be published today.
An advance copy of Parolin’s comments in the book, The Church in China — A Future Yet to be Written, was made available to Reuters.
Parolin, second only to the pope in the Vatican hierarchy, said that the Catholic Church’s work in China “cannot be separated from a stance of respect, esteem, and trust toward the Chinese people and their legitimate state authorities.”
This appeared to be another attempt by the Vatican to allay Beijing’s concerns.
While the historic September agreement initiated an unprecedented direct dialogue between the Vatican and China, Beijing and the Holy See have not resumed diplomatic relations.
Parolin wrote that the “inextricable knots” in relations between China and the Vatican could be untied through a new, unified approach involving a mix of “theology, law, pastoral work, and even diplomacy.”
It is routine for heads of state and government visiting Italy to also meet the pope.
A Vatican source said it could be inserted into Xi’s schedule “at the last minute.”
A Vatican spokesman said it is not on the pope’s schedule.
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) said in Beijing yesterday that he was unaware of any plans for Xi to meet the Pope, but said that China is sincere about wanting to improve ties with the Vatican and has made relentless efforts to this end.
The September deal, in the making for more than 10 years, gives the Vatican a long-sought say in the choice of bishops in China. Critics, particularly conservative Catholics, have labeled it a sellout to the Chinese communist government.
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