Vatican Secretary of State says Pope Francis sees China 'not only as a great country but also as a great culture'
In an interview with a Chinese state-run publication, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin welcomed the opportunity for China and the Holy See to work together to “build a more secure and prosperous world.”
“The prospect opens up that two ancient, great and sophisticated international entities – like China and the Apostolic See – may become ever more aware of a common responsibility for the grave problems of our time,” Parolin said in an interview with the Global Times published May 12.
The Global Times is an English-language newspaper owned by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
The cardinal told the state-owned paper that “inculturation,” a Catholic missionary practice, and “sinicization,” a Chinese government campaign, can be “complementary” and “can open avenues for dialogue.”
“Inculturation is an essential condition for a sound proclamation of the Gospel which, in order to bear fruit, requires, on the one hand, safeguarding its authentic purity and integrity and, on the other, presenting it according to the particular experience of each people and culture,” he said.
“These two terms, ‘inculturation’ and ‘sinicization,’ refer to each other without confusion and without opposition.”
Parolin pointed to the example of 16th century Jesuit missionary, Matteo Ricci, as an outstanding witness of fruitful inculturation in China.
“For the future, it will certainly be important to deepen this theme, especially the relationship between ‘inculturation’ and ‘sinicization,’ keeping in mind how the Chinese leadership has been able to reiterate their willingness not to undermine the nature and the doctrine of each religion,” Parolin said.
Since coming to power in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping has mandated the “sinicization” of all religions in China, a move which the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called “a far-reaching strategy to control, govern, and manipulate all aspects of faith into a socialist mold infused with ‘Chinese characteristics.’’
The Chinese government is in the midst of implementing a five-year “sinicization plan” for Islam, a religion that has faced increased persecution in the country with at least 800,000 Uyghur Muslims held in internment camps.
In April 2019, the commission recommended that China continue to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern. This designation is reserved for nations in which the government “engages in or tolerates particularly severe religious freedom violations, meaning those that are systematic, ongoing, and egregious.”
Parolin said that there is “an increased trust between the two sides” since China and the Holy See signed a provisional agreement in September 2018 on the nomination of bishops, saying the accord provides “hope that we can gradually arrive at concrete results.”
“There is confidence that a new phase of greater cooperation can now be opened for the good of the Chinese Catholic community and the harmony of the whole society,” he said.
Parolin also said that it should not come as a surprise that there is criticism of the deal between the Holy See and the Chinese government, as this is what “generally happens in complex issues and when one faces problems of great importance.”
The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.
Since the agreement was reached, there have been numerous instances of Catholic churches and shrines being demolished by government agents.
More recently, in the capital of Guangdong province, the Guangzhou Department of Ethnic and Religious Affairs offered a reward of 10,000 Chinese yuan (almost $1,500) for information on the activities of religious groups which could lead to the arrest of key leaders.
In March, U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said that “since this provisional deal [between the Vatican and China] was announced last year, the Chinese government’s abuse of members of Catholic communities has continued. We see no signs that will change in the near future.”
Parolin reiterated that dialogue is close to the heart of Pope Francis, who is particularly interested in dialogue on the pastoral level.
“The Holy Father asks Catholics in particular to undertake with courage the path of unity, reconciliation and a renewed proclamation of the Gospel. He sees China not only as a great country but also as a great culture, rich in history and wisdom,” he said.
The Vatican Secretary of State pointed to the fight against poverty, environmental and climatic emergencies, migration, and ethical scientific development as global issues in which China and the Vatican can work together in a spirit of positive cooperation with “the dignity of the human person be placed at the center.”
“The Holy See hopes that China will not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the wider world and that the world’s nations will give credit to the profound aspirations of the Chinese people. In this way, with everyone working together, I am sure that we will be able to overcome mistrust and build a more secure and prosperous world,” Parolin said.