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Who are the kite runners?

HONG KONG (SE): After several reports appeared recently pointing to hiccups in the current round of talks taking place between the Holy See and Beijing, the Vatican secretary of state, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, admitted in his diplomatic way that things are rocky, saying that new challenges had been presented.
It was reported by Chinese observers that the last meeting on June 28, which took place in Rome, did not go smoothly and on July 27, Cardinal Parolin told Il Sole 24 Ore, “Certainly compared with past times new challenges have cropped up that call for unprecedented and creative responses.”
Hot on its heels on August 4 came an interview in the English language Chinese publication, the Global Times, with Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, from the Pontifical Academy for Sciences, who had been attending a conference on organ transplants in Kunming.
Bishop Sanchez told the Global Times that there is every reason to be positive about the talks, as although there has been bad press and no agreement may have been made on a formal level, in the informal realm, or the one that really matters, China and the pope have a good relationship.
“Pope Francis loves China and loves the people of China, its history and population. We hope China can have a great future,” he said.
But on the point of the current impasse in the talks, the Argentine bishop went on to say, “We need to make a distinction between a formal agreement and the real thing. The real thing is that at this moment China and pope have a very good relation.”
While the Global Times is published by the state in China, it does not necessarily carry strict policy, but is more a tabloid that flies kites in an effort to gauge public opinion or test reactions.
In addition, since it is published in English, its target audience is not the general public, but foreign readership.
This begs the question as to who is actually flying the kite, the Vatican or Beijing. Bishop Sanchez has been treated with unusual courtesy, as although bishops from the Vatican have attended conferences on various topics in China previously and have even been written up in the Chinese media, they have not been referred to by their title of Bishop. But Bishop Sanchez was.
But curiously, as the chancellor of the science academy, Holy See-Beijing relations are not his field, so presumably he had been cued from higher up or he would not have ventured into the area during his time in China.
But maybe there are two parties running to retrieve a few kites they have flown in the past.
Since talks resumed between the Holy See and Beijing around two years ago, there have been some optimistic predictions of their success, some certainly over optimistic, but at the same time in the absence of any concrete information and China’s tightening control of religious organisations, there has also been good reason for pessimism.
In addition, there is nothing new in informal agreements, as they have been in existence in China-Vatican diplomacy for many years, sometimes honoured more in the breach then the keeping, although on significant occasions, as when Beijing held off on ordaining Father Shen Guo’an as a bishop in Wuhan in June 2011, they held fast.
There was opposition to the choice of Father Shen locally in Wuhan, with priests and sisters holding a high profile meeting opposing the move.
Father Shen himself was reluctant and expressed that he did not want to go ahead with the ordination unless he had the approval of the Vatican.
Although no explanation was given officially, the ordination was called off just days before it had been scheduled to go ahead on either 9 or 10 June 2011.
It was reported at the time that some last minute negotiating brokered by the Chinese ambassador to Italy was responsible for the cancellation of the plans.
Vatican relations with Beijing have had their ups and downs, even though much has happened on an informal level over the years.
But given the bad press that both sides have been receiving recently, the presence of Bishop Sanchez in China was an opportune time for their kite runners to get busy and retrieve a few words flown on previous occasions.

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