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Church \ Church in Asia

Warming relations between China and the Holy See

Catholics pray during Mass at a house church in China - REUTERS

Catholics pray during Mass at a house church in China - REUTERS

29/08/2016 16:25

(Vatican Radio) The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin has expressed his hopes for "a new season in relations" between China and the Holy See. The cardinal's words came during an address to the diocesan seminary of Pordenone in northern Italy on Saturday.

Similar expectations are also expressed in a book entitled ‘The Gospel beyond the Great Wall’ which explores the many challenges facing the Catholic Church in China today. Its author, Hong Kong born Kin Sheung Chiaretto Yan, belongs to a lay Christian community and works as a teacher in seminaries and colleges in Beijing and Shanghai. He is optimistic about the substantial progress made recently in the difficult relationship between China and the Holy See. He also expects there may be further developments – within this Year of Mercy - that can overcome tensions between members of the official and ‘underground’ Churches in China.

Chiaretto recently returned to Hong Kong to attend an international conference, organised by the Ecclesiological Investigations Research Network, focused on the future of Christianity in China. Philippa Hitchen talked to him on the sidelines of the meeting to find out more about his hopes and expectations….


Chiaretto says the Church in China is still quite traditional, partly because it missed out on the period of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. That was the era of the Cultural Revolution in China and although many churches were reopened in the 1980s, he says the Church still faces many challenges.

He notes that some Catholics have preserved the faith over many generations, while others are recent converts and he says there are still tensions between the so-called ‘underground Church’ and those who are registered with the government approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. He explains that his community works to promote greater dialogue and understanding to overcome past prejudices.

Under Pope Francis, Chiaretto says, the image of the Catholic Church has improved and he believes there will be further progress during this Year of Mercy, as people don’t just go through a Holy Door but learn "to look at other people with new eyes”.

Appointment of bishops

Asked what steps he expects to see in the dialogue between the Vatican and the Holy See, Chiaretto replies that “a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step”. He speaks of the continuing negotiations to find “an acceptable formula” for the appointment of bishops in China and says he’s convinced that the Chinese government is realising the distinction between political sovereignty and religious oversight.

Normalising relations

Chiaretto notes that the Chinese are “quite pragmatic” and says there has been a “whole change of tune” in statements coming from the Chinese foreign ministry regarding relations with the Holy See. He says there is “good will from both sides” and the Chinese government has repeatedly spoken of “positive efforts” that have been made towards the normalisation of relations. While the cultural differences continue to challenge both sides, he says “we need to pray for wisdom” to help “sort these things out”. 

29/08/2016 16:25