Parolin: Vatican needs direct dialogue with China’s authorities

Sabine Kleyboldt (KNA)

Rome (KNA) Personalities from the Church and academia have emphasised the importance of relations between the Vatican and China at an international congress. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin emphasised on Tuesday in Rome that a direct dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese authorities was needed. The Council of Shanghai, which in 1924 took steps towards a Church more firmly anchored in China and away from a colonial character, was a “magnificent work”, said Parolin at the congress “100 Years of the Council of Shanghai: Between Past and Present” at the Pontifical Urbaniana University.

In contrast to what had long been customary, the chairman of the council, Archbishop Celso Costantini, had opposed the idea of foreign missionaries trying to exert influence in China. Instead, they should regard themselves as guests and bishop’s chairs should be filled by clergy from China, said Costantini, who was the first apostolic delegate in China. He had appealed to the bishops to utilise the style of synodality, i.e. to make decisions together, Parolin reminded around 300 international guests, mainly from China and the Vatican.

“Close ties to the Pope are of great importance”

Today, despite all the inculturation of the Church in China – i.e. the embedding of Christianity in the local culture – a close bond with the Pope and the Petrine ministry is of great importance; obedience to the Pope remains a central concern, said Parolin, who played a significant role in the provisional agreement between Beijing and the Vatican on the appointment of bishops. He did not comment on the prospects of renewing the agreement. The secret agreement concluded in autumn 2018 for two years was extended in 2020 and 2022.

Parolin expressly thanked Shanghai Bishop Joseph Shen Bin, saying that his presence lent the conference a special significance. The chairman of the official Chinese Bishops’ Conference – which has not yet been recognised by Rome – was transferred from a small diocese to the important diocese of Shanghai in April 2023 without the Pope’s approval. Three months later, Pope Francis also appointed him Bishop of Shanghai

Bishop Shen Bin also referred to Archbishop Costantini’s commitment to inculturation in order to make the Church visible in Chinese society, which had not been possible for a long time in view of the prevailing colonial attitude. The Church in China was therefore not the architect of itself. Music, language and traditions are important elements of sinicisation, Bin emphasised.

The President of the Institute for World Religions of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Zheng Xiaoyun, called for a living Catholic Church in China in its own tradition. Historically, the Council of Shanghai as well as the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) with its willingness to open up had contributed to this. Today, China must be left to its own citizens, she demanded. President Xi Jinping is a shining example of dialogue and the pursuit of peace and harmony, emphasised Zheng Xiaoyun, President of one of the leading state think tanks for religious issues in China.

Pope emphasises commitment to peace

Pope Francis had previously emphasised the contribution of China’s Catholics to social coexistence and peace “at a time when we see inhuman forces at work that seem to want to hasten the end of the world”. “China’s Catholics live in communion with the Bishop of Rome in the present,” the Pope emphasised in a video message.

The Council of Shanghai was an important step on the path of the Catholic Church in China, said Francis. Many of the participants at the time had not previously been prepared to “entrust the leadership of their dioceses to priests and bishops who were born in China”.

In the end, they signed provisions that opened up new ways for the Catholic Church in China to increasingly take on a Chinese face. “They recognised that this was the right step”, because the faith can only reach people if it speaks their “mother tongue”, said Francis.