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The pope’s a nice guy but…

BEIJING (AsiaNews): The director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs in Beijing, Wang Zuo’an, sent a written reply to an inquiry from a Hong Kong commercial radio station affirming that the process of Sinicisation of religion espoused by the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, in his epic address to the Nineteenth National Congress of the Party on October 18, is here to stay.
However, in his response to the radio station on October 21, Wang was gracious in praising the attitude of Pope Francis.
But his bottom line more or less says that the pope is a nice guy, but…
While Wang did acknowledge the expressions of admiration that Pope Francis has showered on the Chinese government and people, and stressed that his own government has made real and sincere efforts to improve its relationship with the Vatican, he pointed out that Pope Francis still has a few things to learn.
However, the Chinese bureaucrat fell back on the two old hackneyed hurdles, saying that the Vatican must break off its diplomatic ties with Taipei and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of the Middle Kingdom.
But significantly, he also added the rider that internal affairs includes not just the political sphere, but the religious ambit as well, virtually blocking the authority of the pope over the Church of which he is the supreme pontiff.
Pope Francis is on record as having said several times since ascending to the Chair of Peter that he would love to visit China and reiterated this desire in an interview with the Spanish magazine, El País, in January this year.
“I would like to visit China as soon as they send me an invitation,” he told the Spanish media.
However, he also seems to have cooled on the idea a bit since his initial early enthusiasm and has modified his comments somewhat during the past year.
In October last year during an in-flight press conference he said, “I would like to, but I don’t think so yet.”
Again on May 22 this year, when he was drumming up support for the World Day of Prayer for China, which is marked on May 24, the feast day of Our Lady Help of Christians who as patron of China is also recognised as Our Lady of China, Pope Francis asked for the guidance of the Mother of God in discerning God’s will for the way the Church in China should proceed.
However, while some regard Wang’s graciousness in responding in writing to the request from the radio station as a positive sign, others are a not so happy with the overall situation, saying that they are somewhat irked at a congratulatory message to the congress published by Bishop Johan Fang Xinyao and Bishop Joseph Ma Yinlin, who were present at the landmark speech by Xi as the presidents of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.
Xi stated during his work report that the Party will fully implement its basic policy on religious work and “uphold the principle that religions in China must be Chinese in orientation, and provide active guidance to religions so that they can adapt themselves to socialist society.”
Bishop Fang described the remarks made by Xi as providing a fundamental base from which the Church can operate, saying that he pointed out the way forward for the future development of the Church in China quite clearly.
Bishop Ma added to the gloss saying that the report from the general secretary of the Party on the past five years is extremely informative and realistic, while praising his grand blueprint for the future as highly inspiring.
Bishop Ma also called on the Church to study the spirit of the congress report carefully, as he stressed that combined with the actual work the Church is doing, it can achieve the goals it aspires to along with all the people of China.
However, not every Catholic in China shares his enthusiasm.
A member of an unofficial community in Hebei was quoted by AsiaNews as saying, “The Chinese government may speak boastfully, as it is now powerful. But if the pope visits China, we in the underground (unofficial) community will have to be ready for a crackdown.”
Another person commented, “But if we make any noise about it, some people will attack us again, saying that we are not listening to the pope.”
John Mok Chit-wai, a Catholic commentator on public affairs in Hong Kong, questioned on his Facebook page, “If the China-Vatican negotiation is to recognise these fake pastors, but real slaves, what is the use of it?”
However, another point of view promotes the dialogue between the Vatican and Beijing as a way of overcoming misunderstandings between the two parties.

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