Bishop John Fang Xingyao embraces Francis' prayer for Chinese Catholics
Head ofthe official church remains hopeful for restored Vatican ties after message from Francis
The top official at the mainland's state-sanctioned Catholic church said he was encouraged by Pope Francis' attempt to reach out to China's faithful during a prayer this week.
"We welcome the pope's prayers for the Chinese Catholics and we are also praying for him," said Bishop John Fang Xingyao , chairman of Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. "We hope China-Vatican relations will be normalised soon."
On Wednesday, Pope Francis issued his first appeal directed at Catholics in China, long a source of concern for his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
He urged special prayers for China's faithful that they may "live their daily lives in service to their country and their fellow citizens in a way consistent with the faith they profess".
Sino-Vatican relations have been rocked in recent years by the ordination of bishops by the Chinese church without papal approval. In July 2011, Joseph Huang Bingzhang , the bishop of Shantou in Guangdong, was excommunicated by the Vatican because he had not been endorsed by Rome.
Fang said problems would be resolved if China and the Vatican had official ties.
"The main problem is, China and the Vatican have no diplomatic ties," he said. "If there is mutual understanding, there won't be such a situation. So we are hoping for normalisation and the establishment of relations."
Fang, who is recognised by both the Vatican and Beijing, was chosen by Beijing in 2010 as chairman of the association - a body denounced by the Holy See in 2007 as being incompatible with church doctrine.
Fang has long insisted that the resumption of diplomatic ties is "key" to improving Sino-Vatican relations and has said that attempted communication outside formal channels tends to depend on hearsay and breed misunderstanding.
Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist government in Taipei. The mainland permits worship only in its state-sanctioned church, which has 5.7 million members. Other Chinese Catholics, estimated at three to six million, worship in underground churches.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse