China to Mark 4th Centenary of Matteo Ricci´s Arrival

Talk of Improve Beijing-Vatican Ties Resurfacing

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HONG KONG, SEPT. 27, 2001 ( The Hong Kong press is buzzing again about the possibility of renewal of Vatican-China contacts and the establishment of diplomatic ties.

In recent years, Communist officials have used such news leaks to exert political pressures.

The latest issue of the Hong Kong weekly publication Far Eastern Economic Review reports that a series of recent meetings have taken place between representatives of Beijing and Rome. The same publication speculates on the motives of the Communist regime.

«In the event of mutual diplomatic recognition, the Vatican would be obliged to break diplomatic relations with Taiwan,» the journal said. «It would also weaken the stance of half a dozen predominantly Catholic countries in Central America that maintain ties with Taiwan.»

On Oct. 25, 1999, the Hong Kong periodical Taiyang announced the renewal of diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

The following day, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Zhang Qiyue said that China wished to establish relations with the Vatican, but reaffirmed the traditional conditions: that the latter break relations with Taiwan, and not «meddle in Chinese internal affairs, including the religious.»

That last condition means the regime would arrogate to itself the appointment of bishops — something unacceptable to the Holy See.

On Nov. 10, 1999, a few weeks later, the Vatican agency Fides published a secret document of the Communist Party in which the regime explained that it was keen to establish relations with the Vatican in order to solve the question of Taiwan. At the same time, it listed steps to neutralize the Holy See´s influence on Chinese Catholics.

On Jan. 6, 2000, the Chinese government openly challenged the Vatican by ordaining five new bishops of the government-controlled Catholic «patriotic» church. Beijing later assailed the Oct. 1 canonization of 120 martyrs of China.

Nevertheless, new diplomatic contacts are possible, thanks to the celebration in Beijing on Oct. 14 of a congress that marks the fourth centenary of Jesuit Matteo Ricci´s arrival in China.

Father Ricci (1552-1610) is regarded as a national figure, even by the Communist Party, because he took contemporary European learning and sciences, specifically trigonometry, to the great Oriental empire.

Addressing a general audience Sept. 5, John Paul II expressed his support of this congress, as well as a similar initiative in Rome.

Chinese, American and European experts will participate in the congresses on Father Ricci, whose cause of beatification is under way.

«I follow these important initiatives with great interest, and hope they will be totally successful, as the figure of Matteo Ricci is a precious model for anyone working in the field of proclaiming the Gospel in different cultural and religious contexts,» the Pope said.

According to the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review, the rapprochement also coincides with U.S. President George W. Bush´s scheduled Oct. 20-21 visit to China.

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