As cardinals begin their deliberations to choose a new pope to lead the Roman Catholic Church, mainland bishops say they hope Beijing and the Vatican can repair strained relations.
Bishop John Fang Xingyao, chairman of the of the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said a resumption of diplomatic ties was "key" to improving China-Vatican relations.
"After you have established ties, you can negotiate anything, but before that, many problems tend to occur," he said, adding that attempted communications outside formal channels tended to depend on hearsay and bred misunderstanding.
Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist government in Taipei.
Fang said the Chinese church would pray for the new pope.
"We hope the new pope can improve the Sino-Vatican relations and that the relations can be normalised as early as possible, so Chinese Catholics can enjoy a normal religious life," said Fang, bishop of the Linyi diocese in Shandong.
Cardinals, including the 115 aged under 80 who will vote for the next pope, prayed for divine help yesterday and later filed into St Peter's Basilica for a Mass that precedes a conclave.
Sino-Vatican relations have been rocked by a series of bishop appointments made by the Chinese church without papal approval in recent years. In July 2011, Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang, bishop of Shantou , Guangdong, was excommunicated from the Vatican because he had not been endorsed by Rome.
In 2010, Beijing chose Fang, who is recognised by both the Vatican and Beijing, as the chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association - a body denounced by the Holy See in 2007 as being incompatible with church doctrine.
At the same time, Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin - from the Kunming diocese in Yunnan province, who was ordained without papal approval in 2006 - was selected as president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops Conference.
Ma, who is not recognised by the Vatican, said he hoped all the conflicts between China and the Vatican on the appointments of bishops will pass.
"We hope to have a new start … we hope to build a more effective channel of co-operation and I hope they can understand that Chinese church has this kind of need [to appoint its own bishops]," Ma said.
Bishop Zhan Silu of Fujian's Mindong diocese said that he also hoped the new pontiff would improve relations with China. "I believe that it's God's church and He will handle it well," Zhan said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press