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A journey into the relationship of the Chinese Catholic Church and the Vatican

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Pope Francis recently met with a delegation of the Hong Kong Christian Council where he received an unofficial invitation from Cardinal Stephen Chow.

On several occasions, Pope Francis has spoken about the situation of Chinese Catholics and even made gestures to show his solidarity with them.

During his trip to Mongolia last year he addressed the bishop and bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, wishing them the best as well as the population of China.

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Relations between the two states go back centuries, following the arrival of the Jesuits like Fr Matteo Ricci in the 17th century.

In 1924, the First Council of the Catholic Church was held in China. In 1926, Pope Pius XI consecrated the first six native Chinese Catholic bishops in more than 200 years.

But in 1949, the arrival of communism unravelled the centuries-long ties that had formed. Relations with Rome were severed and since then Catholics have faced the daily dilemma of whether to forsake their country or the church.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI wrote them a letter expressing Rome’s closeness to Chinese Catholics, encouraging them to face difficulties with patience and reminding them of the importance of being good citizens.

In this letter, Pope Benedict XVI also shared his desire for an agreement to be reached on the appointment of Catholic bishops in China. And this desire came to fruition in 2018 with the signing of the historic agreement to approve bishops together.

Since then, an established line of communication between Beijing and Rome has developed, even Pope Francis commented on this improvement.

“The relationship with China is very respectful, very respectful. I personally have a great admiration for the Chinese people, they are very open.”

However, not all Chinese Catholics have embraced these institutional steps and do not feel as connected to the Church in Rome.

But the next steps to improving these bilateral relations could include the establishment of an official church presence in China, something the Vatican Secretary of State is hopeful for.

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