Macau Governor General Vasco Rocha Vieira will meet the Pope at the Vatican this month, almost exactly a year before the enclave's handover. Catholic churchmen in Macau said the meeting was a boost to religious freedom and a 'great moment' and a 'gracious honour' for General Rocha Vieira as a practising Catholic. Macau returns to Chinese rule on December 20 next year. Father Luis Sequeira, Superior of Macau's Society of Jesus, said the meeting would send a message to China, which has not recognised the Catholic Church since 1957, that the enclave could be a 'bridge of understanding' between the Vatican and Beijing. He said it also signalled the Pope's long-cherished wish to visit the mainland and he hoped Beijing would understand that the Catholic Church was primarily a 'spiritual and not a political entity'. The audience, arranged by Macau's Catholic diocese, was announced as General Rocha Vieira yesterday delivered his Policy Address and budget for the final year of Portuguese administration. The papal audience is also being interpreted as a recognition of Macau's historic role as the Vatican's first gateway into China in the 16th century. 'Despite Macau's size, the contact with the Pope is a sign of hope for the future of religious freedom and its safeguarding under the Basic Law,' Father Sequeira said.