China-Vatican rapprochement good for Catholics
Published: Sep 19, 2018 11:28 PM

News reports indicate that a deal between China and the Vatican is imminent. If it materializes, the pact will mean substantial progress in China-Vatican relations. It's a good thing not only for Catholic churches in China but also for the development of Catholicism.

Currently China and the Vatican do not have formal diplomatic relations, as the Holy See recognizes Taiwan. Catholics on the Chinese mainland are split between the Catholic Patriotic Association, where bishops are appointed by the Chinese government, and an underground community whose bishops are appointed by the Pope but considered illegal by the Chinese government.

Finalizing the deal between China and the Vatican will help promote the unity of the two communities. However, the efforts to ink the deal drew criticisms from Western media who accused the Vatican of "turning a blind eye to Chinese threats to religious freedom."

In China, every citizen enjoys the freedom to choose whether to believe in a religion, to believe in a certain religion or in a denomination of the same religion. But meanwhile all religious activities must be carried out in accordance with the law and cannot pose threats to social order and stability. No illegal religious activities can be exempted from punishment nor will any legal activities be suppressed.

Religious development should adapt to the actual needs of social and national development. However, some Western forces and media are keen on intervening in China's religious affairs, ignoring the needs of China's social and national governance, which is of no help to the religion's long-term development.

Drew Christiansen, S.J., a distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University and a senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, wrote in America magazine that China's policy was to "Sinicize" religion - that is, to give it a Chinese character. The forward movement on China-Vatican relations that has Pope Francis' support indicates he is inclined to accept the idea of Chinese Catholicism rooted in the world's most ancient civilization.

Signs have kept emerging of improving relations between the Chinese government and the Vatican. From the perspective of the Holy See, the Pope is willing to see more Chinese become believers. Two years ago, he said that he would visit China if given the invitation.

On January 22, 2017, in an interview with the Spanish daily El País, Pope Francis said, "In China the churches are full. You can practice religion in China." As for China, with the development of Chinese society, religion has exerted a greater influence on social and even political life, and China needs to improve relations with the Vatican.

Those who are making an issue of China's religious freedom to create obstacles for the improvement of China-Vatican ties do not care about the development of the Catholic Church. It's believed the Holy See will not be affected by them.

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