Favorable Weather Between Rome and Beijing

Source: FSSPX News

The news was discreetly published in the Bulletin of the Press Room of the Holy See on May 14, 2024, announcing a conference on the history of relations between the Vatican and Beijing scheduled for the following May 21. 

The conference arrived with a ready-made pretext, since it was to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the first synod of the Catholic Church in China, held in Shanghai on May 15, 1924. It was a first in an unstable world which had just proclaimed the fall of last emperor of the Qing dynasty.

Several bishops, vicars general, and religious, most of them born in distant countries and arriving on Chinese soil as missionaries, met under the presidency of Celso Costantini, apostolic delegate to China, with the mandate of relaunching the Church’s mission on Chinese soil.

In this Apostolic Letter of 1919, Benedict XV reaffirmed that faith in Christ “(was not) alien to any country” and that, in any part of the world, to become a Christian did not mean “placing oneself under the protection and power of another country and escaping the law of one’s own.” A century later, the Roman conference is a way of assuring the Chinese authorities that the communist state has nothing to fear from the Church, while the Holy See wants to establish closer ties with Beijing.

Among the speakers were the Bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Shen Bin, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, pro-prefect of the Dicastery for Evangelization. But also presenting were academics and researchers from the People's Republic of China, such as Professors Zheng Xiaojun and Liu Guopeng, from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

These trips could not be made without the approval of the Chinese executive. For the record, Bishop Shen Bin had been the subject of particular tensions between the Vatican and China, since the Chinese authorities had unilaterally decided, in April 2023, on his appointment. As a sign of goodwill, Rome had given in.

It should be noted that Bishop Shen Bin is vice-president of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, dependent on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In recent months, the prelate has repeatedly mentioned the adherence required of Chinese Catholics to the principles of China, supporting the government's sinicization program.

As for Mrs. Zheng Xiaojun, she is deputy director of the Institute of World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as well as of the Chinese Association for Religious Studies, two organizations that play a major role in the religious policy of the sinicization of religions decided by President Xi Jinping, and one of whose ambitions is to promote the “religious perspectives of Marxism.” An oxymoron of the highest kind.

“The participation, in Rome, of a Chinese personality of this level in a public event organized by the Vatican is unprecedented, and it is far from being a detail,” stated the La Croix newspaper, a specialist in relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

According to the article, Cardinal Parolin explained the following from the sidelines of the congress: “We hope to be able to have a stable presence in China. Even if this might not initially have the form of an apostolic nunciature.” This would be a first since the communists came to power in 1949.

Xi Jinping for his part has every interest in intensifying his relations with the Vatican as part of an international policy which attempts to create allies in Europe, with the aim of undermining American hegemony. Relations between the Vatican and Beijing are very asymmetrical in any case, as the PCC's concessions to the Catholics of China appear to be zero or almost zero.