Oops! China fails to receive pope's fly-by message over 'technical glitch'

Vatican admits to failure in communication as pontiff's words have to be resent via the Italian embassy

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 August, 2014, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 2:53pm

China’s leadership failed to receive an unprecedented message of goodwill sent by Pope Francis as he flew over the country, Vatican officials admitted, blaming technical problems for the mishap at a delicate moment in relations with Beijing.

The pope offering his blessings in a message to China’s President Xi Xinping on Thursday, taking advantage of protocol that sees him send a note to nations’ leaders as he travels through their airspace.

But the message never arrived, the pope’s spokesman Federico Lombardi said, leaving China’s embassy in Rome in the position of having to request the pontiff’s words be retransmitted.

“We didn’t know if the message had been received,” said Lombardi. “The Chinese embassy in Rome asked for information about the message because it seemed not to have arrived.”

The glitch is especially unfortunate timing as the pope was en route to South Korea for a visit squarely aimed at fuelling a new era of growth for the Catholic church in Asia, while China continues a long-running battle with the Vatican for control of its Catholic community.

It was the first time that the pope had been permitted to fly over China, with the world’s media giving extra scrutiny to the papal dispatch, which invoked “the divine blessings of peace and wellbeing on the nation”.

His words were later resent via the Italian embassy, as Beijing and the Holy See have no formal diplomatic relations.

When Pope John Paul II visited South Korea in 1989, Beijing refused to let his plane fly over China.

Although the Church is making some spectacular gains in Asia, Catholics still only account for 3.2 per cent of the continent’s population.

But expansion faces tough challenges, especially in China which prohibits its Catholics from recognising the Vatican’s authority.

According to various reports, scores of Chinese Catholics were prevented from travelling to South Korea for Asian Youth Day, and Beijing also warned Chinese priests in attendance not to participate in any event involving the pope.