“Beijing has opened its doors.” The agreement signed with the Holy See “is a concession that had not been granted by the Emperors at the times of Jesuits.” Francesco Sisci is one of the world’s greatest sinologists, authors and academic experts of China. He currently teaches as the People’s University in China. He has been hard to reach in the past few days, overwhelmed as he was by the news arriving from China and the requests of interviews and comments, being one of the world’s greatest experts in Holy See-China relations. In 2016, Pope Francis released an interview on China that was published on Hong Kong’s online daily, “Asia Times”. “For me, China has always been a reference point of greatness”- the Pope said – “A great country. But more than a country, a great culture, with an inexhaustible wisdom.”
“For me, as a boy, whenever I read anything about China, it had the capacity to inspire my admiration. I have admiration for China.”
The “Provisional” agreement signed in Beijing during a meeting with Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, Undersecretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, and H.E. Mr Wang Chao, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, directly addresses an issue that has been the object of lengthy, demanding negotiations for a very long time: the appointment of Bishops, in the framework of the complex relations between the “official” Church and the “underground” Church. The goal of the Holy See is clear: “To support Gospel proclamation in China.” Francis has decided to readmit in full ecclesial communion the remaining “official” Bishops ordained without Pontifical mandate. The list includes a also a bishop who passed away on January 4 2017, who before dying had expressed the wish to be reconciled with the Apostolic See.
It’s a historic announcement. An agreement that seemed impossible until a few years ago, which became reality. It is the fruit– states the Communiqué released by the Vatican press room – “of a gradual and reciprocal rapprochement” between the two parties. It’s the fruit of a long process initiated by Benedict XVI in 2007. In fact, motivated by his concern over the fate of Chinese Catholics he wrote a “Letter” exhorting the full communion and rapprochement through “forgiveness and reconciliation” of past divisions. With the election of Pope Francis, a Jesuit just as Matteo Ricci was, and the mediation of Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the contacts were unexpectedly reactivated in a dynamic way. For Francis China became a priority of his Pontificate, moved solely by his love for Chinese Catholics. The Pope explained his understanding of the dialogue process with China in an exclusive interview with Sisci: “Dialogue does not mean that we end up with a compromise, half the cake for you and the other half for me. This is what happened in Yalta and we saw the results. No, dialogue means: look, we have got to this point, I may or may not agree, but let us walk together; this is what it means to build. And the cake stays whole, walking together.”
Professor Sisci, why now? The pastoral objective of the Holy See is clear, but what has led China to want to reach an agreement with Rome?
It’s because, also thanks to Pope Francis, China realized that the Holy See is the global soft super power, so if Beijing has global ambitions, it cannot fail to acknowledge Rome.
What is your response to those who claim that with the agreement the Church bends down to political power and disowns the martyrdom of so many Chinese Catholics faithful to Rome?
That it’s not true. The core of the agreement is a question of principle on which Beijing has opened its doors. Beijing has recognized the religious bearing of the Pope in China. It’s a concession that had not been granted by the Emperors at the times of Jesuits, thus it is of major import.
China is heavily accused of violating religious freedom by international organizations. What prospects does the agreement for religious freedom in China open up?
It paves the way to greater religious freedom in China
Naturally, the challenges and the difficulties are many.
We shall see.