Beijing-Rome Relations Not Quite Right Yet, Says Vatican Aide

Denies Report in Far Eastern Economic Review

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 14, 2001 ( Is there a thaw in relations between China and the Vatican?

This is the question highlighted by the international press when reporting on the conference being held today through Wednesday in Beijing on the Jesuit missionary, Father Matteo Ricci, who took Western learning to that country 400 years ago.

Numerous scholars from China, as well as the United States and Europe, are attending the meeting, sponsored by the Ricci Institute of the University of San Francisco in California.

Quoting Chinese government authorities, Hong Kong newspapers stated recently that this initiative is an opportunity to re-establish contacts between Beijing and Rome, following last year´s difficulties.

At the start of the Jubilee Year, the Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-controlled church, ordained bishops without the Holy See´s authority. The canonization of China martyrs, on Oct. 1, 2000, drew harsh protests from Beijing.

Now, the Gregorian University is organizing an international congress on Matteo Ricci, to be held in Rome from Oct. 24-25.

Father Giancarlo Politi, a former missionary in Hong Kong who was recently appointed an official of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said, “These two congresses must be regarded for what they are: a significant event of a strictly cultural nature; however, they do not allow for hasty conclusions.”

Such conclusions were suggested by the Far Eastern Economic Review in an article published Oct. 4. The article announced the imminent resolution of the grave differences that separate Rome and Beijing.

Father Politi said the article in the Far Eastern Economic Review had come to a forced conclusion.

Following China´s entry into the World Trade Organization, “the last weighty question at the international level which remains to the resolved by China is its contention with Rome, and it is logical that the media should follow the two contenders closely to decipher any little sign that might spell something new,” Father Politi told the Italian newspaper Avvenire on Saturday.

What is more serious, Father Politi added, is that the Far Eastern Economic Review article was then reported by important Western media but, “unfortunately, the situation is not like this.”

“We are on the eve of a political event that calls for great prudence,” the priest said. “Next spring the Chinese Communist Party will hold its National Congress, from which the leaders will emerge who will direct the Republic of China in the forthcoming years.”

In this context, Father Politi believes that, given the recent difficulties, the future of China-Vatican relations requires greater realism on both sides.

“On one hand, I believe, the government of Beijing must rethink the terms on which it hopes to dialogue with the Church,” he said. “On the other, the Church and the Vatican will probably have to make an effort to keep in mind the history and apparatus that exists in China, which will continue to exist in the immediate future.”

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