Categories: World News

Be ‘Good Citizens’, Pope Tells Chinese Catholics During Mongolia Visit

 

Pope Francis on Sunday told Catholics in China to be “good Christians and good citizens”, using his visit to Mongolia to help ease tensions between the Vatican and Beijing.

Following a mass before the scant Catholic population in Mongolia’s capital of Ulaanbaatar, Francis turned his attention to officially-atheist China, some of whose citizens had flown in for the pope’s visit.

This handout photo taken and released by Vatican Media on September 3, 2023 shows Pope Francis (2nd R) attending Holy Mass at the Steppe Arena in Ulaanbaatar. (Photo by Divisione Produzione Fotografica / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP)

Flanked by Hong Kong’s current bishop, Stephen Chow, and its bishop emeritus, Cardinal John Tong Hon, the 86-year-old pope said they joined him to send “a warm greeting to the noble Chinese people”.

“To the people I wish the best,” said the pope. “To Chinese Catholics, I ask you to be good Christians and good citizens.”

The unscripted comments were Francis’s latest attempt to reassure China’s Communist government, which is wary of the Church’s presence in its country.

On Saturday, Francis appeared to send a more tacit message, telling a gathering of Catholic missionaries that governments had “nothing to fear” from the Catholic Church.

Members of the clergy attend Holy Mass presided by Pope Francis at the Steppe Arena in Ulaanbaatar on September 3, 2023.  (Photo by Pedro PARDO / AFP)

“Governments and secular institutions have nothing to fear from the Church’s work of evangelisation, for she has no political agenda to advance,” said the pontiff, without mentioning China explicitly.

In choosing to visit the vast, isolated nation of Mongolia sandwiched between China and Russia, the pope’s goals were twofold.

On one hand, the trip showed the Jesuit’s desire to bring the Church’s message to remote, largely ignored areas where Catholicism is young and unfamiliar.

But looming over the trip has been a more strategic, geopolitical objective — that of thawing frosty relations with Beijing.

This handout photo taken and released by Vatican Media on September 3, 2023 shows the faithful attending Holy Mass led by Pope Francis at the Steppe Arena in Ulaanbaatar. (Photo by Simone Risoluti / VATICAN MEDIA / AFP) 

In the crowd at the mass held in a newly built ice hockey arena was a Chinese woman who had travelled from the northwestern city of Xi’an.

Telling AFP it was “rather difficult to come here”, she described how the two organisers of her group’s pilgrimage had been detained back in China.

“Let me tell you, I feel so ashamed to hold the (Chinese) national flag,” she said.

“But I need to hold it and let the Pope know how difficult it is for us.”

AFP

Donatus Anichukwueze

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