The move by the Pope could help to heal the rift in Sino-Vatican relations The Pope will canonise a 19th century missionary to China tomorrow - and unlike the case three years ago, when his canonisation of martyrs angered leaders, the move has been welcomed on the mainland. Observers say it could help smooth the way to normalising relations between China and the Catholic Church. Joseph Freinademetz, an Austrian, worked for the German missionary order the Society of Divine Words in Shandong province. 'We were very happy, especially the older generation, when we heard about [the canonisation],' the UCA News agency quoted Jinan Bishop Zhao Ziping, 82, as saying. Jinan, the Shandong capital, is 370km south of Beijing. Bishop Fang Xingyao, of Linyi county, said a celebration Mass would be held in his diocese. Three years ago, the central government was incensed by the Vatican's canonisation of 120 martyrs, many of whom the Chinese considered traitors and foreign imperialists. The Pope later apologised but Sino-Vatican relations have not made visible progress since then. The canonisation of Freinademetz, however, has proceeded without controversy. Anthony Liu Bainian, vice-chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, led a group of Chinese bishops in paying homage to the home town of Freinademetz during a recent visit to Europe. Catholic sources on the mainland said Beijing had apparently been apprised of the canonisation plan. The news may have been contained in a message brought to Beijing in July by United States prelate Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, of Washington. Cardinal McCarrick has close ties with the Vatican, serving on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and as founder and president of the Papal Foundation. The Vatican may also have seen the aftermath of the recent Sars outbreak as an opportune time to give the Chinese people a patron saint of infectious disease. The Austrian father succumbed to typhus in 1908 after almost 30 years' service in China. People in Shandong prayed to him for protection during the outbreak, the Vatican's Fides news service reported yesterday. Freinademetz, who was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1975, was born in 1852 in the South Tyrol region - now part of northern Italy, but then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Ordained a priest in 1875, he joined the Society of Divine Words the following year. On his way to establish a mission in Shandong, he spent two years in Hong Kong working among the Hakka people. Father Gianni Criveller, a senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Centre in Hong Kong, said Freinademetz was a great admirer of Chinese culture and had been utterly committed to his mission. He went as far as to declare that 'in heaven I want to be Chinese', according to Father Criveller. The Austrian, weakened by tuberculosis, succumbed to the typhus which swept Shandong in 1908. He was buried in Linyi county. During the Cultural Revolution, his tomb was desecrated and his remains burned.