Pope Francis urged to develop a dialogue with China on the basis of the agreements

© 2018 AFP / Vincenzo Pinto Pope FrancisPope Francis urged to develop a dialogue with China on the basis of the agreements© 2018 AFP / Vincenzo Pinto

Pope Francis on Wednesday addressed a special «Message to the Chinese Catholics and the Universal Church», in which he assured the faithful of China to a constant pastoral concern for their interests and expressed hope for continued fruitful dialogue with Beijing.

In a lengthy document, the text of which was published by the print service of the Holy see, the Pontiff explained in detail the motives for the conclusion of the «interim agreement» on the appointment of bishops in China, signed on Saturday in Beijing during the visit of the official Vatican delegation. The procedure for the appointment of Catholic bishops is one of the main obstacles to normalization between the Vatican and China broke off diplomatic relations in 1951. Currently in China there are actually two Catholic churches, and the official Chinese Patriotic Church, whose bishops were appointed by local authorities without approval from the Holy see, has about four million people.

The conclusion of the «interim agreement» between the Vatican and China has caused contradictory reactions in the Roman Catholic Church and, above all, concern over the fate of Chinese Catholics who are not members of officially recognized authorities of the Church. This fact is recognized and the Pope Francis, noting in the message that «recently circulate conflicting opinions about the present and especially the future of Catholic communities in China.» «Some have had doubts and concerns, others have the feeling that the Holy see seems to have left them,» he said.

«In such a difficult and significant moment for the life of the Church I through this message want first to assure you that you are daily in my prayers, and to share feelings living in my heart,» said Francis, referring to Chinese Catholics. He noted that the agreement was the fruit of long and difficult dialogue between the Holy see and the authorities of China, which were initiated by his predecessors in the Apostolic throne of John Paul II and Benedict XVI to restore the full unity of Chinese Catholics.

According to the Pope, after long reflection and prayer, after hearing many opinions on the matter, he came to the decision «to grant reconciliation the remaining seven «official» bishops, ordained without papal mandate,» in China and not apply any canonical sanctions as a sign of regained unity.

«In the sixth year of his pontificate, which I from the first steps put under the sign of the merciful love of God, call upon all Chinese Catholics to become creators of reconciliation,» said Francis. In this regard, he urged all believers on the basis of new agreements between the Holy see and Beijing «work together to find good candidates who will be able to take on the delicate and important service in the Episcopal Church.» He stressed that future bishops should be no religious functionaries, and the true shepherds.

In this context, Pope Francis gave a high evaluation concluded «the interim agreement» because it «introduces the stable elements of cooperation between Public authorities and the Apostolic see». The Pontiff pointed to the need to improve the provisions of this document called to consider it as a «tool which cannot solve all of your problems without a serious commitment to renewal of relationship and Church behavior.»

Separate passage of the papal message devoted to relations with the official authorities of the PRC. «Sincerely appeal to those who are in charge of people’s Republic of China, and re-offer with confidence courage and foresight to continue the dialogue begun long ago. I want to assure you that the Holy see will continue to sincerely act in the interests of developing a genuine friendship with the Chinese people. The current contacts between the Holy see and the Chinese government were useful to overcome divisions of the past, including the recent, and writing a page more clear and concrete cooperation», — concluded the Pope Francis.