Macau | Cardinal says agreement between Vatican and China will help the Church in the country

Macau, China – The prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, said today in Macau that the “pastoral agreement” between the Vatican and China “will greatly help the Catholic Church” in the country.

Fernando Filoni presided over the official inauguration of the new facilities of the University of Saint Joseph in Macau, which gathered more than 500 people in the auditorium to attend Mass.

Macau and Hong Kong are the only places in all of China where the pope’s authority is accepted.

On the sidelines of the event, the cardinal stressed to the journalists that the agreement, “will be very good for the Church in the future and for China too.”

“China is already very open,” he said, “in trade, in political life, it’s really wide open.”

“When I go to Africa, I meet with Chinese people throughout Africa,” said the cardinal, following the ceremony blessing the facilities and a mass celebrated in the auditorium of the university.

In Portuguese, the prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples recalled that this agreement, “is not political, it is not diplomatic, it is pastoral.”

The agreement, to be implemented in two years and ending more than 70 years of antagonism between Beijing and the Vatican, gives Beijing a say in the appointment of bishops.

China and the Vatican broke diplomatic ties in 1951, after Pius XII excommunicated the bishops appointed by the Chinese government.

Chinese Catholics then split between two churches: the Chinese-Patriotic Catholic Association, approved by Beijing, and the clandestine church, which remained faithful to the Vatican.

The Vatican believes that it has the right to appoint bishops to preserve the apostolic succession that goes back to the apostles of Jesus Christ. China regards the Vatican’s requirement as a violation of its sovereignty.

Due to the dispute, over the last decades the Chinese regime has appointed several bishops without the consent of the pope, some of whom were later excommunicated by the Vatican.

Fathers who have remained faithful to the Vatican are often detained or persecuted.

Francis, and before him Pope Benedict XVI, tried to unite the two churches, and years of negotiations culminated in an agreement signed in September last year, which includes Vatican recognition of seven bishops appointed by Beijing, while two bishops of the clandestine church will have to relocate outside of China.

The provisional text, which may be revised periodically, “is a hope for all,” said Fernando Filoni.

Regarding the possible difficulties that may arise in the practice of this agreement, the cardinal preferred a message of trust, “In life, there are always difficulties. We will first establish mutual trust and this will be very useful for the understanding of all.”

Regarding the fact that the students in the interior of China cannot study at the Catholic University of St. Joseph, the cardinal showed confidence that this may happen in the future.

“This belongs to the future, but I hope so,” he said, adding that, “this university structure can be used by everyone.”

“Culture cannot be limited to a few people or a few places. A culture that is not open is not a culture,” he said.

In Macau, since Saturday, the cardinal celebrated a mass at the Episcopal Sé on Sunday and presided over a priest’s meeting in what is one of Asia’s major Catholic centres.

Earlier, Fernando Filoni was in Taiwan, an island with close to 300,000 Catholics, and where the Catholic Church carries out an important educational, medical and solidarity work, where he presided Friday at the Fourth Eucharistic Congress of Taiwan, as special envoy of the pope.

According to the Vatican News, Fernando Filoni spoke about the importance of missionary work, “so necessary on this island of Taiwan, where the Church is a small reality, despite so many years of evangelization and many appreciable social and educational works.”

In mid-December, Taiwanese leader, Tsai Ing-wen, invited the pope to visit the island.

This is the third invitation that Taiwan has sent to Francis to visit the island, with close to 300,000 Catholics and where the Catholic Church carries out important educational, medical and solidarity work.

Although the Vatican is Taiwan’s diplomatic ally, Francis is unlikely to accept the invitation from the island’s authorities because of political differences between Taipei and Beijing and the Catholic state’s approach to China, which resulted in the signing of important agreements this year.