China Calls Papal Message a "Positive Sign"

But Wants Pope to Apologize for Canonizing Martyrs Last Year

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BEIJING, OCT. 30, 2001 ( China welcomed John Paul II´s request for forgiveness for the past faults of the Church´s children in that country. But it also wants him to apologize for last year´s canonization of 120 China martyrs.

Sun Yuxi, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in a press conference that the Pope´s request for forgiveness is a «positive sign.»

But he added: «We see that the papal message does not include clear requests for pardon for the canonization of saints. We regret this.»

John Paul II is willing to travel to China if this would help to normalize Vatican-Beijing relations, the secretary of the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education, Archbishop Giuseppe Pittau, said last week.

Last year Beijing protested the canonization of 120 martyrs, whom the Communist authorities regard as «criminals,» and stated that this «insult to the Chinese people» removed any possibility of rapprochement with the Vatican.

John Paul II broke the ice by sending a message to the Chinese people last Wednesday, on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of Jesuit missionary Father Matteo Ricci´s arrival in China. The message asked for forgiveness for past errors of the Church´s children.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman said: «The Chinese government has always wanted to improve its relations with the Vatican, basing itself on two fundamental principles: non-interference in internal affairs with the pretext of religion, and recognition of the People´s Republic of China as the only legitimate government for the whole of China, including Taiwan.»

Several Vatican personalities, including Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano and Archbishop Pittau, have stated on repeated occasions that the second condition is easy to resolve. Vatican diplomatic representation had been in Beijing until 1957, when it had to move to Taiwan after the People´s Republic severed its relations with Rome.

The first question referred to by Beijing is more difficult, since the Communist government believes the appointment of bishops by the Pontiff constitutes interference in China´s «internal affairs.»

Archbishop Pittau said last week that «John Paul II has already thought of technical solutions» to surmount this problem.

These solutions, the prelate added, will be proposed to Beijing as soon as the occasion presents itself. «There is no issue that can separate us,» he added.

In Vietnam, for example, the Holy See presents a list of candidates for the governance of a diocese to the Communist government. The authorities choose the bishop that suits them most from the list.

«Prior to the [October 2000] canonization, there were already contacts to improve relations between China and the Vatican,» Sun explained. «However, the canonization has meant a new obstacle.»

«We hope that the Vatican will take concrete measures to remove the obstacles in order to create a propitious atmosphere for the re-establishment of contacts and negotiations,» he added.

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