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Pope receives gift from Xi Jinping

HONG KONG (SE): “And the Chinese president sent me a gift. They are good relations,” Pope Francis told an inflight media conference on his way back to Rome from Georgia and Azerbaijan on October 2.

Speaking a little freely about China, Pope Francis reiterated, “The Chinese nation has my highest esteem,” adding, “The day before yesterday, for example, there was a congress… in the academy of sciences on Laudato Si’ (Praise Be: On care for our common home).”

He pointed out that a Chinese delegation sent to the congress by the president of China, Xi Jinping, had brought him a gift with the compliments of the president.

Pope Francis revealed his news in responding to a question from Jean-Marie Guenois, from the Italian Le Figaro newspaper, about why he has not been able to visit China.

The delegation from Beijing was led by sometime politician and archeologist, Hu Deping. He had addressed the Joint Consultation on Laudato Si’ and the Path to COP (Conference of Parties) 22organised by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on September 28 at the Vatican.

His delegation was charged by the president with delivering a gift to Pope Francis, which is being interpreted by observers as reflecting increasingly good relations between the Vatican and Beijing.

Hu is the son of the disgraced former secretary general of the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang, who was fired under Deng Xiaoping for his handling of the 1989 nationwide student uprising, but died in April just prior to the subsequent massacre in Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

However, on what would have been his 100th birthday last year, his speeches and writings were allowed to be published by the president, even though Hu’s liberalising policies remain a touchy issue on the mainland.

The Nikkei Asian Review reported in November last year that Hu was an ally of Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, who defended Hu to the end, earning Deng’s displeasure. He was also purged.

Xi and the younger Hu grew up under similar circumstances and remain on good terms, as Hu is known to have good connections, making him an ideal courier to the pope.

In answering Guenois’ question, Pope Francis acknowledged the split in the Church in China, saying that he believes that progress is being made in mending fences, but adding that in other areas, including relations between China and the Vatican, things are improving.

He pointed to an exhibition put on by the Vatican Museum in the Middle Kingdom saying that Beijing intends to reciprocate and hold an exhibition at the Vatican in the near future.

“I am an optimist,” Pope Francis said. “There are so many professors who go to Chinese universities to study. So many priests and so many sisters who can work well there. But the relations between the Vatican and China have to be fixed once and for all and we are speaking about this slowly, but slow things always go well. Fast things don’t go so well.”


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