Pope Francis took advantage of his presence in Mongolia this Sunday to send a message to neighboring China, a country with which the Vatican does not have official diplomatic relations, but with which it has approached positions in recent years to the point of signing an agreement. which allowed unblocking the appointment of bishops in the Asian giant. Although the pact, signed in 2018 and renewed twice, represents a significant step forward to boost the presence of the Catholic Church in China, it has been criticized by the local faithful, who denounce that the Holy See has bowed to the demands of an authoritarian regime that does not guarantee the full independence of the ecclesiastical community.
At the end of the mass he presided in Ulaanbaatar, the Pontiff surprised those present by calling to his side the Chinese cardinal and bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, John Tong Hon, and the current bishop Stephen Chow, whom he will create as a cardinal in the consistory convened in Rome on September 30. Both concelebrated the Eucharist after going to Mongolia accompanied by about 40 faithful from Hong Kong, something that the bishops and parishioners from mainland China could not do, since the authorities prohibited them from traveling to the neighboring country to see the Pope.
Francis took the hand of the Salesian Tong Hon and Chow, a Jesuit like him, to send “a warm greeting to the noble Chinese people”, wishing them “the best” and that they “go forward, always progressing”. He then addressed in particular the Catholics of the Asian giant: he asked them to be “good Christians and good citizens.” He thus urged them to collaborate with the institutions in Beijing, making it clear that it is not necessary to rebel against the regime to be a good believer in the Catholic Church.
The idea that one can be at the same time “a good Christian and a good citizen” in China was already present in the letter that Jorge Mario Bergoglio sent to the Catholics of that nation in 2018 after the signing of the historic agreement for the appointment of bishops. He then asked them to remain “united” to overcome “the divisions of the past”, motivated by communist persecution. In a delicate balancing act so as not to irritate the authorities in Beijing, Francis also reminded the local faithful that, although they were called to “totally love their homeland” and serve it “with effort and honesty”, this did not prevent them from being able to ” express a critical word” in order to build a “more just society.”
Before celebrating Mass at the Ulaanbaatar sports hall in front of nearly 2,000 people, including the country’s tiny Catholic community, made up of some 1,400 people, the Bishop of Rome held an interreligious meeting with representatives of other faiths in which he warned of the danger posed by extremism. “Closedness, unilateral imposition, fundamentalism and ideological coercion ruin fraternity, fuel tensions and endanger peace”, commented the Pope, for whom religions offer a “formidable potential for good at the service of society”. in order to build “harmony” between peoples.