Taiwan's relations with the Vatican have remained unshakeable over the years, but most people expect the break to come when the Holy See notifies Taipei that it has to move its embassy to Beijing. Even the Catholic Church in Taiwan has acknowledged that the Vatican will forge official ties with the mainland when the conditions are right. 'It can be any time, even tomorrow,' said Father John Chen Kun-chen, of the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference, which co-ordinates Catholic churches in Taiwan. 'The Vatican is ready for it.' Father Chen said normalisation of relations with the mainland would not harm Catholics in Taiwan. 'It is just moving the embassy from Taipei to Beijing,' he said. 'It is impossible for the Vatican to abandon its diplomatic ally. I believe the Holy See will deal with this properly.' Monsignor Ambrose Madtha, the Vatican's charge d'affaires in Taipei, has said that if the Vatican moves its embassy to Beijing, it would work out a way for the 300,000 Catholics in Taiwan to be represented. Father Chen pointed out that the Vatican wanted to normalise relations with Beijing because it could not abandon Catholics on the mainland. Official figures show there are about 4 million worshippers of the state-controlled church, but the Vatican estimates that the underground church has about 10 million followers. Asked if the Vatican had ever thought of the feelings of Taiwanese followers towards a switch of ties, Father Chen admitted that some worshippers would be upset. 'The ideological conflict in Taiwan is serious. It is inevitable that some Catholics here would feel hurt if the Vatican moves its embassy to Beijing,' he said, referring to the ethnic split that has divided the island into pro-Taiwan and mainland-conciliatory camps. But for most followers, a switch of ties should be acceptable, he said, adding the mainland had maintained a diplomatic embargo against Taiwan for years and people had become accustomed to the situation, no longer regarding it as highly unacceptable. He said an increasing number of Taiwanese Catholics felt the Vatican should also take care of their counterparts on the mainland. 'The Pope has asked followers in Taiwan to serve as a 'bridge' to their mainland compatriots. I believe our compatriots on the mainland deserve the attention of the Holy See because we all share the same religion,' said 33-year-old worshipper Jason Yang. Primary school teacher Tim Wang, who goes to church almost every Sunday, said people should not mix politics with religion. '[Political allegiance] is one thing and faith is another. I won't feel bad if the switch is just political. What I care about is whether the Vatican would abandon Catholics in Taiwan.' A Catholic netizen justified the Vatican's plan to normalise Beijing ties by saying in a Yahoo chat room that mainland worshippers needed more help than those on Taiwan. 'Compared with the mainland, followers in Taiwan would not suffer persecution given the religious freedom on the island; but on the mainland, many worshippers are forced to go underground because of government persecution. So which side needs help from the Pope?' The Vatican has never been shy about its desire to normalise relations with the mainland. Unofficial contacts between the two sides have grown more frequent and an official Vatican delegation met government officials in Beijing last year for the first time. But progress has been slow despite the Vatican's efforts to knock on the mainland's door. Father Chen said the problem lay with the mainland, which on the surface has blamed Taiwan for being the obstacle to normalisation of Sino-Vatican relations. 'The fact is the mainland side has its own internal problem,' he said, referring to Beijing's refusal to ease controls through its Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Tou Chou-sheng, Taiwan's top envoy to the Holy See, said the Vatican saw its right to appoint bishops as an important one that could hardly be compromised. David Wang Chien-yeh, spokesman of Taiwan's Foreign Ministry, said as long as the mainland government failed to guarantee freedom of religion, the Holy See was unlikely to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing. 'The two sides still baulk at a number of issues, including the appointment of bishops,' he said. He acknowledged that his ministry kept a watchful eye over the developing relationship between the Vatican and Beijing.