China bishops on historic Vatican visit invite pope to Beijing
Churchmen attend their first bishops’ conference in Rome since agreement between Chinese government and the church
The pope has been invited to visit China by two Catholic bishops from the mainland, attending their first Vatican meeting with the permission of Beijing, according to a Catholic newspaper on Tuesday.
Joseph Guo Jincai and John Baptist Yang Xiaoting attended the first two weeks of the meeting of bishops from around the world, known as a synod, and saw Pope Francis daily in the first concrete sign of a thaw between the Holy See and Beijing after last month’s landmark agreement on the naming of bishops China.
“While we were here, we invited Pope Francis to come to China,” Guo told Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops conference.
“We are waiting for him,” Guo said.
The deal, which was signed on September 22 after more than 10 years in the making, gives the Vatican a long-sought say in the choice of bishops in mainland China, although critics have labelled it a sell-out to the Communist government.
China’s approximately 12 million Catholics have been split between an underground Church swearing loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.
Guo was ordained into the Catholic Patriotic Association without papal permission and had been excommunicated by the Vatican.
As part of the September 22 agreement, the pope lifted his excommunication and recognised his legitimacy, making Guo an important interlocutor between both sides.
Guo said he did not know when a trip could take place but said he and his brother bishop Yang believed it was possible and were praying for it.
“Our presence here was considered impossible but it became possible,” he said.
The pope is expected to visit Japan next year and on Thursday he will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who will be carrying an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for him to visit Pyongyang.
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Vatican officials have stressed that last month’s deal between the Holy See and Beijing was pastoral and not political. But many believe it is a precursor to the restoration of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Beijing after more than 70 years.
That would mean breaking relations with Taiwan. The Vatican is the self-ruled island’s last remaining diplomatic ally in Europe.
Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, has formal relations with 16 other countries, many of them small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific.
The island’s vice-president Chen Chien-jen also invited Pope Francis to visit Taiwan during an audience with the pope ahead of the canonisation of Pope John Paul VI on Sunday. Taiwanese media reported Chen said the pope “smiled” when he was invited to visit Taiwan.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse