Vietnam Under the Diem regime, Catholicism was the de facto state religion of South Vietnam. The communist North therefore came to identify the Church with reactionary politics. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, which was created after the Vietnam War, has yet to establish diplomatic relations with the Holy See. In 1996 the then Mgr Pietro Parolin agreed to share the power to appoint bishops with the government. Yet Hanoi remains wary of Rome. Last year the government passed the Law on Belief and Religion, tightening its control over organised religions – and particularly the Catholic Church.
China The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association was founded in 1957 when Chairman Mao decided to “democratise” the Church in China. Catholics who remain loyal to the Holy See have faced persecution in the 60 years that followed. Now serving as Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Parolin has asked several underground bishops to step down in favour of government-backed counterparts. According to a state newspaper, Beijing and the Vatican “will establish formal diplomatic relations sooner or later”. Yet the development has outraged many in the underground Church – perhaps none more than Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.
North Korea The Holy See has no diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the two countries do not recognise each other. North Korea is also consistently ranked as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. None of which has stopped Pope Francis from attempting to broker a peace between the United States and the North Korea as nuclear tensions between the two countries continue to rise. According to reports, the Holy Father has been seeking a phone call with Kim Jong-un, though it appears that the regime has so far refused.
Venezuela On August 4, 2017, the Vatican secretariat of state called on Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro to suspend the Constituent Assembly. Rome feared the Assembly would rewrite the constitution to remove protections on political and religious liberty. Pro-government mobs responded by vandalising churches, ransacking monasteries and beating up Catholics. Last month, Maduro called for two bishops to be prosecuted for “hate crimes”. While those “crimes” were never specified, the bishops are outspoken critics of the socialist government.
Cuba On December 17, 2014, reports emerged that Pope Francis helped to broker the normalisation of relations between the US and Cuba. This was followed by an official papal visit to the island in 2015, during which the Pope was criticised for not calling attention to the regime’s human rights abuses. The Castro regime is notoriously anti-Catholic, but its opposition to the Church has softened in recent decades, thanks largely to papal interventions. John Paul II celebrated Mass in Plaza de la Revolución in 2010 – the first public Catholic event in four decades.
Bolivia Raised in a syncretic faith – part Catholic, part animist – Bolivian president Evo Morales stunned the world by giving Pope Francis an equally syncretic crucifix in 2015. It depicted Christ nailed to a hammer and sickle, which Morales thought the “Pope of the poor” would appreciate. It was a suitably perplexing symbol for Bolivia itself, where the socialist Morales is extremely popular in the 77 per cent Catholic country. In 2006, his government and Bolivia’s bishops clashed over new laws that would remove Catholic religious instruction from public schools.
The European Union The Holy Father has called the EU a “mother” to all the peoples of Europe, and an “antidote to modern forms of populism”. Francis addressed the group Together for Europe, saying that “walls are being built in people’s hearts” following Britain’s decision to leave the EU. The Vatican’s foreign secretary, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, also tacitly endorsed Remain before the 2016 referendum. “I think we would see it as being something that is not going to make a stronger Europe,” said Archbishop Gallagher. “Better in than out.”
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