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Pope Francis

Pope greets Chinese faithful in emotionally charged encounter at the Vatican

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 March, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 March, 2017, 2:29am

A group of Chinese visiting the Vatican had an emotionally charged encounter with Pope Francis, an American news agency reported, in a rare instance of the head of the Catholic Church greeting followers from a nation where his authority is not officially recognised by the state.

In an 80-second video clip posted on the Facebook page of the Catholic News Service, the pope is seen meeting the Chinese worshippers during his general audience at St Peter’s Square on Wednesday.

Vatican and Beijing near deal on appointment of bishops, Hong Kong cardinal says

The pope kissed the cheek of one boy holding a Chinese flag, before an elderly man who was carrying him, knelt down and bowed, the video showed.

The pope spent a few seconds with a young Chinese girl and laid his hand on the head of a woman holding her, it showed.

Other tearful pilgrims knelt on the ground and presented a statue of the Virgin Mary to the pope for his blessing, while those around them cried and waved Chinese flags, according to the clip.

“We love you, pope,” one pilgrim said in Chinese.

According to the news service, the group came from Tianjin, the port city next to Beijing.

It remains unclear how they managed to travel to the Vatican. While going overseas has become much easier for Chinese citizens in the past decade, the nation’s Catholics, especially those from so-called underground churches, are often stymied by the government when trying to travel to the Vatican. Beijing requires state oversight of Catholics and broke off diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1951.

But there have been signs of warming ties in recent months. The Holy See for the first time publicly recognised two bishops affiliated with the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association who were ordained in Sichuan and Shanxi provinces late last year.

Two Chinese bishops recognised by Vatican ordained on the mainland

Earlier last month, Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong Hon wrote in the Sunday Examiner newspaper that a deal being negotiated with Beijing would see Pope Francis have the final say over the appointment of bishops in China.

But Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, has warned that any such deal could be a betrayal by the Holy See of the underground Catholic faithful in China.