Prayer and “healthy realism” are needed to ensure progress in Vatican-Chinese relations and to allow a situation where Chinese Catholics can feel both fully Catholic and fully Chinese, said the Vatican secretary of state.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who serves as secretary of state and Pope Francis’s top aide, said there are “many hopes and expectations for new developments and a new stage” in relations between the Vatican and China.
The cardinal’s comments came as he gave a seminar on August 27 in Pordenone, Italy, on Cardinal Celso Costantini’s efforts in the early 1900s to consolidate diplomatic ties between the Vatican and China.
The efforts achieved real progress because they relied on “knowledge, respect, encounter and dialogue between worlds that, at least in appearance, were far from each other,” Cardinal Parolin said.
Current Vatican efforts to normalise relations with the country’s communist government are motivated by a desire to help not only the nation’s Catholics, but also “the entire country, which boasts one of the planet’s greatest civilians,” the secretary of state said.
Pope Francis, like St John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is pursuing improved relations with China while fully recognising and paying tribute to “the sufferings, misunderstandings (and) frequently silent martyrdom that the Catholic community in China carries on its back,” Cardinal Parolin added.
The Pope, he said, also knows how deeply Chinese Catholics “yearn for full communion with the successor of Peter,” a relationship that is difficult because the communist government objects to what it sees as Vatican “interference” in the affairs of the Catholic community in the country.
Despite their struggles, Cardinal Parolin said, Catholics in China are making great strides in “witnessing to the love of God and love for their neighbors, especially the weakest and neediest, which is the synthesis of Christianity.”
While differences persist among Chinese Catholics about how much cooperation with the government is acceptable, the cardinal said the Pope hopes the Year of Mercy would be a time of “mutual forgiveness, reconciliation between brothers and sisters experiencing division and efforts to grow in understanding, collaboration and love.”
“With trust in divine providence and a healthy realism,” he said, Catholics should pray for improved Vatican-Chinese relations.
The goal, he said, is to demonstrate the power of dialogue and mutual respect, ensuring that “Chinese Catholics can feel fully Catholic – and more visibly anchored on the solid rock that, by the will of Jesus, is Peter – and fully Chinese without denying or diminishing all that is true, noble, just, pure, affable and honoured that their history and culture has and continues to produce.”