Hong Kong’s former bishop, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has asked Pope Francis not to visit China.
If Francis were to visit, the cardinal warned that he would be manipulated, reported the South China Morning Post.
In response to speculation the Pope could visit China if ties improve between the Vatican and Beijing, the cardinal said in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera: “I would tell him now: ‘Don’t come, you would be manipulated.'”
Explaining, he said the Communist Party would show Francis the “illegitimate bishops, including the three excommunicated ones.” He added, the “few courageous” Catholics would be prevented from meeting the Pope.
The cardinal added he did not see signs of dialogue happening between the Catholic Church and China. “Even if under these conditions Beijing was to extend a hand, it would be a trick under these circumstances,” he said. “Our poor bishops are slaves, the Communist Party denies them respect, tries to take away their dignity.”
Although some say relations have improved, others say they’ve soured. They cite as evidence Beijing’s unsanctioned ordination of bishops in 2010 and the house arrest of Thaddeus Ma Daqin, auxiliary bishop of Shanghai.
Chinese Christians face grave challenges as the Communism Party’s grip remains firm.
The Vatican and China have not had formal talks since Beijing severed ties 63 years ago over allegations of espionage. Informal talks were last known to be held in 2010.
However, some sources still speculate the Pope considers visiting. During a March interview with the same Italian paper, Francis said, “We are close to China,” adding he had exchanged letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Convinced Francis is eager to visit, an anonymous Jesuit Chinese scholar stressed the Vatican has wanted to move its nunciature (diplomatic mission of the Holy See) from Taiwan to the Chinese mainland.
On the other hand, he noted, Beijing may be less eager to receive the outspoken Pontiff, who would be likely to call the nation out on corruption and mistreatment of the poor. He said, “China may be very wary of allowing him to hold a microphone.”
Next month, Aug.14-18, Pope Francis is set to visit South Korea to participate in the 6th Asian Youth Day. In January 2015, he will visit the Philippines, which has the largest Catholic population in Asia.
The Vatican maintains a visit to China is not on the Pope’s agenda. (D.C.L.)