Pope Francis will not meet the Dalai Lama this weekend when the Tibetan spiritual leader comes to Rome.
In a decision that has been described as a “snub” in the media, the Pope decided not to meet the exiled Buddhist leader when he comes to Rome for a summit of Nobel Peace Prize winners.
The Dalai Lama told reporters: “The Vatican administration says it’s not possible because it could cause inconveniences.”
“This time I won’t meet Pope Francis,” he said, adding that he would have been “very happy” to meet.
The decision is seen as an attempt to avoid offending the Chinese administration, which has a thorny relationship with the Catholic Church. There are between five and 12 million Catholics in China, but the country has a very poor record on religious freedom. This summer a number of churches were destroyed in the latest round of repression.
Pope Francis is trying to improve relations with the country, which by mid-century is projected to have one of the largest Christian populations in the world. On his return from South Korea in August Francis became the first Pope to be granted permission to fly through Chinese airspace and he sent a radio message conveying his “best wishes” to Chinese president Xi Jinping.
In a statement a spokesman for the Vatican said: “Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates.”
Pope Francis will instead send a video message. The conference is only being held in Rome because the original venue, South Africa, refused to issue the Dalai Lama a visa out of fear of offending the Chinese.
A Vatican official told the Guardian that the decision not to meet the Dalai Lama was “not taken out of fear but to avoid any suffering by those who have already suffered”.