Pope gives ‘noble’ Chinese people a shout-out at Mass in Mongolia in bid to warm ties

by Ethan Kim
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Pope Francis in Mongolia

Pope Francis extended a special acknowledgment to the Chinese populace, referring to them as “noble,” during a Mass conducted in Mongolia, aimed at fostering improved relations. This gesture took place amidst the papal visit to Mongolia, where the focus was overshadowed by the ongoing concerns over Beijing’s actions towards religious minorities. Pope Francis addressed the assembly, including numerous Chinese pilgrims, and took the opportunity to convey his warm regards to the people of China. He expressed his wish for their continuous progress and encouraged Chinese Catholics to uphold their faith while also being responsible citizens.

The pontiff’s visit marked the sole instance during his four-day journey where he made a public reference to China, despite China’s significant influence over both Mongolia and the trip itself. China’s Communist Party has persistently enforced strict controls on religious practices, particularly targeting Christianity and Islam, viewing them as foreign influences and potential challenges to their authority. The suppression of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region has been particularly severe, drawing international concern. Reports suggest that over a million ethnic minority individuals have been subjected to forced detention in reeducation centers, where allegations of torture, abuse, and coerced renunciation of their faith and culture have emerged.

While the pope extended a telegram of goodwill to President Xi Jinping as his aircraft traversed Chinese airspace, the absence of mainland Chinese bishops during the papal visit underscored the delicate nature of the 2018 Vatican-China agreement regarding Catholic bishop appointments. This agreement had been compromised by unilateral appointments made by Beijing.

During the visit, Pope Francis emphasized Mongolia’s historical tolerance for diverse faiths, contrasting it with China’s ongoing crackdown on religious groups. He presided over an interfaith event featuring Mongolian shamans, Buddhist monks, Muslim, Jewish, Shinto leaders, and a Russian Orthodox priest. In this diverse gathering, he recognized the potential for religious traditions to contribute positively to society. He underscored the significance of dialogue and encounter among leaders of nations as a means to alleviate global conflicts.

Pope Francis’ presence in Mongolia aimed at nurturing the emerging Catholic community while also highlighting Mongolia’s tradition of tolerance. The visit transpired in a region where relations between the Holy See and neighboring China and Russia have often been strained. Despite China’s repression of religious minorities casting a shadow, the Vatican aimed to emphasize Mongolia’s unique aspects and its small Catholic population.

Amid these dynamics, Cardinal-elect Chow from Hong Kong expressed the growing importance of the Asian church within the universal church, pointing to its role alongside the fast-growing African church. As China continues to push for the Sinicization of religions, adhering to party directives, the delicate balance between maintaining diplomatic relations and expressing concerns about religious freedom persists. Pope Francis has maintained a cautious approach, avoiding direct confrontation with Beijing, and emphasizing dialogue and engagement.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Religious Relations

What was the significance of Pope Francis’ acknowledgment of China’s people during the Mass in Mongolia?

Pope Francis extended a special greeting to China’s “noble” people during a Mass in Mongolia, aiming to foster improved relations amid concerns over Beijing’s crackdown on religious minorities.

What message did Pope Francis convey to the Chinese people during the Mass?

Pope Francis expressed his warm regards to the Chinese people, wishing them progress and encouraging Chinese Catholics to be both faithful Christians and responsible citizens.

How has China’s Communist Party approached religion in recent years?

China’s ruling Communist Party has imposed strict controls on religion, particularly targeting Christianity and Islam as foreign influences challenging its authority. The crackdown also includes the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.

What is the status of the Vatican-China accord on Catholic bishop appointments?

The 2018 Vatican-China accord over bishop nominations has been compromised as Beijing made unilateral appointments. The absence of mainland Chinese bishops during the papal visit underscored this issue.

How did Pope Francis address religious tolerance during his visit to Mongolia?

Pope Francis contrasted China’s crackdown on faith groups by highlighting Mongolia’s tradition of religious tolerance. He presided over an interfaith event, emphasizing the potential of diverse religious traditions to benefit society.

What was the objective of Pope Francis’ visit to Mongolia?

Pope Francis aimed to minister to Mongolia’s small Catholic community and highlight its tradition of tolerance. The visit also sought to navigate the strained relations between the Holy See, China, and Russia.

How has Pope Francis engaged with Chinese authorities and religious figures?

Pope Francis extended a telegram of goodwill to President Xi Jinping. While avoiding direct confrontation, he emphasized dialogue and engagement, maintaining a cautious approach in addressing China’s religious policies.

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