The normalization of ties between the Holy See, head of the largest unified religion of the world, and China, the most populous country on Earth, registered progresses in recent years and months. However, the distance between the parties remains significant. The Holy See is extremely concerned about the situation and the division of the Catholic Church in China vis a vis the government. Meanwhile, Beijing is still very cautious about how it should handle the strange phenomenon of a universal religion with an independent “political statehood”. Trust, mutual fear is an issue, cultural perceptions is another. Still Beijing is clear that mormalization of ties with the Vatican could imporve immensely its perception in the world.
Rome’s tortured state of mind
In Rome, many people are very worried and concerned about the underground Church. They think these people can be both fickle and difficult. They are fickle because, with the years in isolation, they lost touch with the proper Catholic education, and they missed the long process of Vatican Council II, which started in the 1960s. Conversely, some underground Chinese Catholics started following a mishmash of strange religious creeds. Furthermore, Beijing tried to avoid dealing with them, fearing accusations of suppression of religion; Rome could not reach out to them because they claimed to be under Communist suppression; and therefore, some of them would not listen to Rome or Beijing. Some of them de facto made up a group of their own, bringing embarrassment to Rome. They claim to be Catholics but are not totally in line with Rome’s tenets, and they are hindering the Holy See’s normalization of ties with Beijing, which is a primary objective for the Pope.
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