This handout picture released by the Osservatore Romano shows Pope Francis (left) meeting with former "comfort women", Koreans forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, prior to celebrate a mass for peace and reconciliation at the cathedral on Monday in Seoul. Pope Francis wrapped up the first papal visit to Asia in 15 years on Monday urging the divided Koreas to reject suspicion and confrontation and unite as "one family, one people". Photo:AFP
China on Tuesday expressed willingness to conduct dialogue with the Vatican and push for the improvement of bilateral ties, as Pope Francis said he wants to visit China on the way back from his South Korea trip on Monday.
"You ask me if I want to go to China? Certainly, even tomorrow," he told reporters on board the papal plane as he returned from a visit to South Korea.
"But the church asks for the freedom to do its job in China, there is no other condition," he said, according to AFP.
China has always been sincere and working hard to improve relations with the Vatican, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the Global Times Tuesday in a statement.
She noted that China is willing to have "constructive" dialogue with the Vatican and improve bilateral ties.
The Chinese government respects and protects the religious freedom of its citizens in accordance with the law, and supports religious people contributing to the economic and social development of the country, she added.
Based on historical circumstances and tradition, China's Catholic churches are on a healthy development path under the principles of self-governance and self-support, while conducting normal religious activities, she said.
The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association refused to comment on Tuesday.
The Vatican does not recognize the authority of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the bishops it appoints. China severed its diplomatic relationship with the Vatican in the 1950s.
Francis has extended an olive branch to China with great kindness and has been creating a new atmosphere for a possible détente with China since he was elected in March last year, Li Xiangping, a religious studies professor with East China Normal University in Shanghai, told the Global Times.
While some said the pope's saying of "freedom to do its job" reaffirmed the Vatican's stance on the appointment of bishops in China, Li said Francis also hinted at room for negotiation and that China might want to consider a meeting.
The pope also sent a second telegram to Chinese President Xi Jinping
as the plane entered Chinese airspace on the returning route.
"Returning to Rome after my visit to Korea, I wish to renew to your Excellency and your fellow citizens the assurance of my best wishes, as I invoke divine blessings upon your land," the pope's telegram said, according to Reuters.
"The Holy See," he said, "is always open to be in touch, because it has true esteem for the Chinese people," reported the Vatican Radio. Pope on Sunday called on Asian countries that had not set up formal ties with the Vatican to accept a "dialogue," as they did not want to "come as conquerors."