I realise this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I have an abiding interest in these fascinating developments. Perhaps the most significant observation is as follows: ‘He [Pope Francis] sees China not only as a great country but also as a great culture, rich in history and wisdom. Today China has come to arouse great attention and interest everywhere, especially among young people. The Holy See hopes that China will not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the wider world and that the world’s nations will give credit to the profound aspirations of the Chinese people’.
Not only does this indicate an official Vatican position, but it also reveals how hollow the ‘China threat’ narrative really is, peddled by a handful of former colonisers (12-15 at most) who know their influence is well and truly on the way out.
It comes from an interview with Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State. It was published today in the Global Times, but it also has clear connections with earlier statements (here, here and here). The text is as follows:
Editor’s Note: As a sign of positive developments in China-Vatican relations, the recent Easter celebrations were peaceful in China and the presence of the Vatican representation at the Horticultural International Exhibition in Beijing attracted positive attention. Cardinal Pietro Parolin(Parolin), Vatican Secretary of State, granted an exclusive interview to the Global Times (GT) special correspondent Francesco Sisci and staff reporter Zhang Yu. He talked about the latest progress of the provisional agreement between China and the Holy See, his memories of negotiating with Chinese representatives, and his take on China’s sinicization of religions in recent years.
GT: The agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China has been signed. The dialogue is still ongoing. How is it proceeding now? How often do the two sides meet? Can you give us some details about it?
Parolin: Yes, on September 22, 2018 we signed a provisional agreement on the nomination of bishops in China. The two sides are well aware that such an act constitutes the point of arrival of a long journey, but it is above all a starting point. There is confidence that a new phase of greater cooperation can now be opened for the good of the Chinese Catholic community and the harmony of the whole society. The channels of communication are working well. There are elements which demonstrate an increased trust between the two sides. We are inaugurating a method which appears positive and which will still have to be developed over time, but which, for now, gives us hope that we can gradually arrive at concrete results. We have to journey together, because only in this way will we be able to heal the wounds and misunderstandings of the past in order to show the world that even starting from positions that are far apart, we can reach fruitful agreements. I would like to highlight an aspect which is particularly close to the heart of Pope Francis: That is, the true nature of dialogue. In dialogue, neither of the two sides gives up its own identity or what is essential for carrying out its own task. China and the Holy See are not discussing theories about their respective systems nor do they want to reopen questions which by now belong to history. Instead we are looking for practical solutions which concern the lives of real people who desire to practice their faith peacefully and offer a positive contribution to their own country.
GT: There is some opposition to the Vatican’s dialogue with the Chinese government. What is your take on the opposition and what would you say to the opponents within the Church?
Parolin: As generally happens in complex issues and when one faces problems of great importance, also in Sino-Vatican relations, it is usual to compare different positions and likewise propose different solutions, according to the initial points of view and the prevailing concerns. Therefore, there should not be a surprise if there is criticism, which can arise either in the church or in China or from elsewhere, of an opening which can appear unprecedented after such a long period of confrontation. Indeed, it seems to me human and Christian to show understanding, attention and respect for those who express such criticism. Of course, not all problems have been resolved. Many questions still need to be addressed and we are facing them with willingness and determination. I am well aware that no one has it completely worked out (or, indeed, can provide a magic formula!), but I can also say that we are committed to finding enduring solutions, which are acceptable to, and respectful of all concerned. Obviously, criticisms which come from prejudiced positions and which seem to seek to preserve old geopolitical balances are another matter. For Pope Francis – who is well aware of all that has happened even in the recent past – the main interest in the ongoing dialogue is on the pastoral level: he is making a great act of trust and respect for the Chinese people and their culture of millennia, with the well-founded hope of receiving an equally sincere and positive response. The truly important point is that the dialogue should be able to progressively build a wider consensus by bearing abundant fruits. A first and two-fold fruit, to observe carefully, is what has already taken place: on the one hand, we are beginning to overcome reciprocal condemnations, we know each other better, we listen to each other, we understand the needs of those involved in the dialogue in a better way. On the other hand, the prospect opens up that two ancient, great and sophisticated international entities – like China and the Apostolic See – may become ever more aware of a common responsibility for the grave problems of our time. Global responses have to correspond to global challenges. Catholicism by its nature is a global reality, able to promote in an original way the search for meaning and happiness, to bolster the value of belonging to a specific culture and at the same time experience universal fraternity. As a Chinese bishop recently pointed out, the Catholic communities in China today are asking to be fully integrated into universal communion, bringing to the Church the gift of being Chinese.
GT: Inculturation has always been important for the Catholic Church when it preaches the Gospel. Now China is carrying out “sinicization” of religions. What is your take on inculturation and “sinicization”?
Parolin: Inculturation is an essential condition for a sound proclamation of the Gospel which, in order to bear fruit, requires, on the one hand, safeguarding its authentic purity and integrity and, on the other, presenting it according to the particular experience of each people and culture. The fruitful experience of Matteo Ricci is an outstanding witness of this: he knew how to make himself authentically Chinese in order to promote the values of human friendship and Christian love. For the future, it will certainly be important to deepen this theme, especially the relationship between “inculturation” and “sinicization,” keeping in mind how the Chinese leadership has been able to reiterate their willingness not to undermine the nature and the doctrine of each religion. These two terms, “inculturation” and “sinicization,” refer to each other without confusion and without opposition: in some ways, they can be complementary and can open avenues for dialogue on the religious and cultural level. Finally, I would say that the principal actors in this commitment are Chinese Catholics, called to live reconciliation in order to be authentically Chinese and fully Catholic.
GT: The Vatican (Holy See) has played a positive role in helping China get recognition for its efforts to crack down on organ trafficking. Are there other areas in which the two sides can work together?
Parolin: As I pointed out before, today many global challenges exist which need to be faced with a spirit of positive cooperation. I am thinking in particular of the great issues of peace, the fight against poverty, environmental and climatic emergencies, migration, the ethics of scientific development and the economic and social progress of peoples. It is of primary importance for the Holy See that in all these areas the dignity of the human person be placed at the center, beginning with the real recognition of his or her fundamental rights, among which is the right to religious freedom, and the common good, which is the good of each and everyone. These are very broad horizons which today more than ever need a shared commitment on the part of everyone: believers and non-believers. The Holy See will continue to do its part within the international community and is open to every initiative which promotes the common good.
GT: It is a complicated time for the whole world and in particular for some countries. What could you say to political leaders personally, as a religious man?
Parolin: Today, more than in the past, political leaders are called to enormous responsibilities. What happens on the local level almost immediately has repercussions on the global level. We are all interconnected, so the words and decisions of a few persons influence the lives and way of thinking of many. As a man of faith and as a priest, I would like to invite those who have direct political responsibilities to keep in mind this power of influence over people, a power which can be vertiginous. I would like to say that even in the most difficult situations and faced with the most complex decisions they should not be afraid to lift their gaze, beyond immediate success, to seek lasting and far-reaching solutions without preconditions which can contribute to building a more humane, more just and more worthy future for everyone. In this regard, I would like to highlight the message of Pope Francis for the celebration of the 52nd World Day of Peace on January 1, 2019, entitled: “Good politics at the service of peace,” which offers valuable indications to all those who have political responsibilities.
GT: You have dealt with Chinese representatives for many years. What is the most powerful memory of that time? And the most beautiful one?
Parolin: I have clear and fond memories of the time when, as Undersecretary for Relations with States, I had dealings with the Chinese representatives and I thank the Lord for allowing me to have that rich experience. There was, of course, no shortage of concerns and fears. On not a few occasions, it seemed to me that we would never make progress and that everything would be brought to a halt. The will to move forward prevailed on both sides, however, and with patience and determination we sought to overcome the obstacles along the way. This particular detail has remained clearly impressed on my memory. The most poignant times were those when we spent moments of familiarity and friendship together, allowing us to get to know one other and to appreciate each other more and, in the end, to share the humanity that unites us beyond the differences that exist between us. These are situations that have a profound value in themselves, but which were also useful in creating a more favorable atmosphere during the negotiations. I remember, in particular, a whole day spent in Assisi with the Chinese delegation one Sunday in spring: the fascination of the places of Saint Francis and the climate that was created between us opened my heart to a great hope, which kept me going in all the following years and that still encourages me. We have seen the first fruits of it and, with God’s grace, we will see yet more, for the benefit of the entire Chinese Catholic community, which I embrace fraternally – above all those who have suffered most and continue to suffer – and of the entire population of that country, to which I sincerely extend every good wish.
GT: Your Eminence, do you have a particular message for the Chinese people and its leaders?
Parolin: I would like to send to the leaders, but also to all the people of China, the greetings, best wishes and prayers of Pope Francis. The Holy Father asks Catholics in particular to undertake with courage the path of unity, reconciliation and a renewed proclamation of the Gospel. He sees China not only as a great country but also as a great culture, rich in history and wisdom. Today China has come to arouse great attention and interest everywhere, especially among young people. The Holy See hopes that China will not be afraid to enter into dialogue with the wider world and that the world’s nations will give credit to the profound aspirations of the Chinese people. In this way, with everyone working together, I am sure that we will be able to overcome mistrust and build a more secure and prosperous world. In the words of Pope Francis, we would say that only by being united can we overcome the globalization of indifference, working as creative artisans of peace and resolute promoters of fraternity.