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Happy New Year to a great people

HONG KONG (SE): A greeting for the Lunar New Year from Pope Francis to the people of China was published on the online Hong Kong news site, Asia Times, on February 2, almost one week prior to the actual celebration of the beginning of the Year of the Monkey, which falls on February 8.

Pope Francis said, “On the eve of the New Year, I wish to convey my best wishes and greetings to President Xi Jinping and to all the Chinese people. And I wish to express my hope that they never lose their historical awareness of being a great people, with a great history of wisdom, and that they have much to offer to the world.”

Pope Francis added that the whole world is looking at the wisdom of China that has been accumulated in its culture over thousands of years, saying, “In this New Year, with this awareness, may you continue to go forward in order to help and cooperate with everyone in caring for our common home and our common peoples.”

While it has become common practice for popes to give Lunar New Year greetings to the Chinese people, they normally do not constitute more than a couple of lines and are delivered at the weekly Sunday noon homily at St. Peter’s Plaza in the Vatican.

They are also addressed to the Chinese people the world over, no matter where they are living. But this year, Pope Francis has addressed the nation of the People’s Republic of China directly, beginning with the president, whom he names, in an interview with the secular media.

In a wide ranging interview conducted by Italian journalist, Francesco Sisci, the pope says that China and its culture cannot be ignored, especially by the Church, which has a duty to respect all cultures.

However, he stresses that standing before this Chinese culture, “I would say, (the Church) has a duty to respect it with a capital R.”

Then in a roundabout way of saying the Church can have a positive relationship in China, he added that he believes it can be greatly enriched through its encounter with Chinese culture, as the experience of the great Jesuit missionary of the 16th and 17th centuries, Father Matteo Ricci, has shown.

He said that from the time he was a small boy he had always been fascinated with anything he read on China, which bred in him a deep admiration for the Middle Kingdom, the same type of admiration that Father Ricci experienced in his life.

As China opens up its doors to the world for the first time in thousands of years, Pope Francis says that the awakening giant should not be feared. “Being afraid is never a good counsellor,” he said, adding that wisdom cannot remain a captive of national borders, but the natural desire to communicate can often breed aggression, which threatens the balance of peace.

However, he said that he believes that the world has the capacity to keep that balance, but it cannot be achieved by cutting up the cake into private domains, as this only isolates culture and humanity in small cages, and humanity by its nature cannot be cut into pieces and nor can culture be contained.

Likening himself to a mother-in-law giving unsolicited advice, he pointed out that achieving this balance necessitates dialogue, as this is the key to encounter.

Pope Francis added that he believes that despite the many problems that China is facing domestically, with its aging population, environmental disasters and the separation of families three of the biggest, he does believe that the people are moving forward, and that is their greatness.

He adds that history should never cripple, but is something that all must be reconciled with.

“When one takes responsibility for one’s own path, accepting it for what it is, this allows one’s historical and cultural richness to emerge, even in difficult moments,” the pope said.

Then returning to his central point of dialogue, he said this is a must in moving forward, as all cultures must emerge as they mature. However, he added that he does not believe this is a surrender of self, even though there are always hidden agendas in dialogue with others, like cultural colonisation.

While drawing an important distinction between culture and ideology, the pope explained that he believes that the strength and the greatness of the Chinese people is that they have always maintained their culture, despite attempts from outside to colonise it, so dialogue should not be feared.

He said that this also involves accepting our reality, even though there are tensions between modernity and ancient wisdom. “But the tension brings fruitfulness,” he said, “as it looks to the future from a present which is sustained by the memory of the past,” he reflected.


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