CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 December 2017

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China puts ban on Vatican tours

HONG KONG (SE): Travel agencies in China have received an instruction not to sell any package tours that include the Vatican City on their itinerary, a report from Radio Free Asia on November 22 claims.
 
Radio Free Asia quoted an employee of Phoenix Holidays International Travel Agency as saying that the reason given is that there are no diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Beijing.
 
The order is described as coming from high up, implying that it is from the Communist Party and not from the government of the state.
 
In addition, penalties have been announced for any agency that flaunts the rules.
 
“Any tourist agency that advertises these destinations in promotional brochures or other publication will be hit by fines of up to 300,000 yuan ($360,000),” the employee said.
 
Italy is a popular destination for Chinese tourism and most who visit the country also drop into the Vatican, some out of interest or curiosity, but many because they are Christians and just want to visit the holy of holies in the Eternal City.
 
The destination is popular not only among Catholics, but also Protestants. They not only visit, but also flaunt their faith, waving flags and drawing attention to their Chinese identity, especially when Pope Francis appears.
 
The pope often stops to acknowledge their presence and chats with them, which assures they get plenty of media exposure.
 
They also distribute leaflets about the faith among other Chinese in the crowds.
 
It contains information about where to find Churches back home and giving guidelines on timetables for services and contact details, which some commentators believe may be getting up the nose of high up officials in the Communist Party.
 
Travel agents say, “All the Chinese coming to Italy come to visit the Vatican, the Museums and St. Peter’s Basilica.”
 
AsiaNews points out that since the dialogue between the Holy See and Beijing was resumed the number of Chinese tourists coming to the Vatican has increased exponentially.
 
However, tour operators are skeptical about the effectiveness of the ban saying that they doubt that it will be strictly observed.
 
One told Radio Free Asia, “It is laughable. How do you think you can control millions of people abroad? And above all young people, who want greater freedom than their fathers had.”
 
AsiaNews points out that the ban resembles that put on South Korea in protest against the installation of anti-missile weapons by the United States of America, when it put a ban on tours to Seoul and declared a boycott on Korean-owned business on the mainland.
 
Although there are a few people around the Vatican with high hopes for the dialogue with Beijing, of late China has become more controlling of religious practice and dragged up the old arguments about ties with Taipei and not interfering in the nation’s internal affairs.
 
But maybe the real rationale is that when people leave the country they enjoy a lot more freedom and exposure to different messages and information than while they are at home, and this is just one more move to put a clamp on the promotion of Christianity among Chinese citizens.

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