CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 September 2018

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Pope’s gift from China

ROME (SE): The gift from China that Pope Francis spoke of with journalists during his return flight to Rome from Baku in Azerbaijan on October 2 is a silk print drape inscribed with ideogrammes from the historical Christian Stele of Xi’an.

It depicts the long narrative inscribed on the famous stele, which is also referred to as the Nestorian Stele, which dates back to 781 during the Tang Dynasty, and documents the first 150 years of the presence of Nestorian Christians in the Middle Kingdom.

The history on the stele mentions the cross and baptism, as well as the Trinity and the incarnation.

In an article published in the Vatican Insider on October 6, Gianni Valente suggests that the message implied in the gift is that Christianity is not an imported colonial product of the late second millennium, but had been embraced by China from the very early days of the faith.

However, some controversy surrounds who exactly gifted Pope Francis with the drape that was presented on September 28 by a delegation from the Chinese government taking part in a consultation prior to the upcoming Conference of Parties on the environment in Morocco later this year.

The Sunday Examiner attributed it to the president of China, Xi Jinping, quoting Pope Francis himself as saying, “China’s president has sent me a gift. Relations are good.”

The Chinese delegation was headed by Hu Deping, who also delivered a keynote speech at the consultation and is known to be on friendly terms with Xi.

However, the gift itself was handed over by Zhou Jinfeng, the general secretary of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, which was founded by Lu Zhengcao, a foundation general in the People’s Liberation Army.

Valente reports that Hu lost no time in posting photographs of the occasion on the website of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, saying that Pope Francis accepted it with great joy.

Valente then notes, “The more official government bodies did not comment on the event. But the news was reported on the websites of pro-government media, such as the Duo Wei Xin Wen, which credited President Xi Jinping with the initiative.”

Églises d’Asie comments, “Neither the Holy See nor China issued any comment after the press reported President Xi Jinping’s gift to Pope Francis. China’s official press, whether the Global Times or the People’s Daily, have not uttered a word on the matter. The Holy See Press Office assured that it had no information either.”

Églises d’Asie wonders if the pope was rambling a bit too wide during his meet the press on the plane, as another comment about a Vatican exhibition on the mainland seems to refer to one in Taiwan from February 5 to May 2 this year in the National Palace Museum.

It ran under the name of The Altar, Catholicism Spreads East, The Holy See, The Liturgical Year, The Pope and History, and The Sacraments and it was organised by the Vatican Office of Liturgical Celebrations in conjunction with the museum and billed as one of the largest in the world.

Although the main government media outlets, Xinhua and the opinion gauge, the Global Times, did not carry the story, Valente interprets the fact that news of the gift was picked up by some Chinese media as being a sign of progress in relations, as in the past, messages from popes to the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, from Pope Paul VI onwards, have been totally ignored.

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