What the Pope should have said to the Chinese government

Chinese President Xi Jinping , left. His government continues to persecute the faithful (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

If you were sending a message to President Xi and the Chinese government, what would you say? Now that the Pope has given an interview which is nothing less than a scarcely coded overture to the Chinese, proposing a warmer and closer relationship, and the Chinese government have noted the interview, signalling that they have got the message, what sort of message would you send? While you contemplate that, here is a list of things I would like to communicate to the Chinese government.

First of all, please stop demolishing Churches, both Catholic and Protestant, and please stop harassing Christians. Not only is this wrong in itself, it also makes you look bad. And it is also futile. You simply cannot stop the growth of Christianity in China, and knocking down buildings, or even imprisoning people, will not stop the growth of the Church.

There are two reasons for this, both of which you may be unaware of. Firstly, the Christian gospel is an irresistible message, and will conquer wherever it is proclaimed: you cannot fight God, who is the author of the gospel. Secondly, you yourselves, in the Cultural Revolution, did huge harm to China, destroying much of its culture and history and damaging many social ties. You certainly did not realise it at the time, but in so doing you created a vacuum which the Christian gospel has begun to fill. While the Cultural Revolution was deeply regrettable (and we all agree on that) it nevertheless paved the way for the spread of Christianity. So my advice to you is not to combat Christianity, but to harness the energies of Christians for the good of all Chinese.

Secondly, and very importantly from the Catholic perspective, please disband the Catholic Patriotic Association at once. The Catholic Church knows no national borders, and from our point of view the idea of national churches is absurd and clean contrary to the teaching of Jesus who commanded us to go out and teach all nations, and who himself was no respecter of borders. The Catholic Patriotic Association is an sad anomaly and represents your control freak desire to keep a stranglehold over religious practice. But religious practice has nothing to do with you. It is not a government matter.

And contrary to what you may think, the Church has no desire to dominate China politically. Your obsession with religion is a hangover from the nineteenth century and the nationalist movements that convulsed China and attacked Christians as the agents of the “foreign devils”. This mindset is quite out of date now. By giving the Church freedom you would in fact strengthen international ties between China and the rest of the world, which would be to everyone’s advantage.

Talking of international ties, I come to my third point. Please abandon your expansionist foreign policy which is a threat to world peace. Please allow the non-Han Chinese populations of the People’s Republic to choose their own destinies. Yes, I mean the Uighurs and I mean Tibet, and I also mean Taiwan, a democratic polity that you constantly threaten to nuke. This sort of behaviour is not peace-loving and it wins you no friends.

I am fully aware that China is an ancient civilization that commands respect – the Pope says so. This assertion of course undermines your attachment to Marxism, which is a very recent philosophy. I would love to hear more from you about the ancient nature of Chinese culture and the enduring value of Chinese traditions. That sort of conversation might help us all come to a correct understanding of the value of Marxism, and it might also help China in its rapid industrialisation. After all, none of us want China to repeat the mistakes Europeans made when we industrialised.

Finally: Dear President Xi and the Chinese government, the Christians of the West actually wish you well, and admire the way your country has recently brought so many people out of poverty. Poverty is a great evil: now please tackle the other great evils, such as restrictions on religious liberty, political repression, and political belligerence. And you can start, Mr Xi, by emptying your detention facilities of prisoners of conscience.