By Andrea Tornielli
In his speech on the "State of the World" seen through the eyes of the Holy See, Pope Francis dedicated several significant lines to the signing of the Provisional Agreement with the People’s Republic of China.
His words are important because they bring out once again the intention underlying the Holy See’s long-standing commitment to “a lengthy and thoughtful institutional dialogue”.
The first significant fruit of this dialogue is represented by the Agreement signed in Beijing on 22 September 2018 by the Holy See’s Under-Secretary for Relations with States, Antoine Camilleri, and by China’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Chao.
Recent Popes and those who work with them have been committed, not to political or diplomatic goals, but to fostering the unity of the Catholic Church in China and to unity between the Bishops of China and the Successor of Peter. In other words, they have sought to guarantee the essential elements necessary for the life of Catholic communities in China.
Pope Francis recalled in his speech to the Diplomatic Corps that he had previously readmitted the remaining “official” Bishops ordained without pontifical mandate into full ecclesial communion, urging them “to work generously for the reconciliation of Chinese Catholics and for a renewed effort of evangelization”. For the first time in many years, all the pastors of the Catholic Church in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome.
One sign of this full communion was confirmed by the participation of two bishops from mainland China at the Synod on Young People. Pope Francis showed visible emotion as he greeted them during the inaugural Mass on the steps of St Peter's Basilica.
The final remarks of the paragraph dedicated to China in the Pope’s address to diplomats should also be underlined: “It is to be hoped that further contacts regarding the application of the signed Provisional Agreement will help resolve questions that remain open and make needed room for an effective enjoyment of religious freedom.”
Once again, we can conclude that which is implicit in the title of the Agreement itself: that this is a first, historic, and fundamental step along a path which is not concluded and which will require more time. An understanding was reached regarding nominations of new Bishops, as was announced in September.
However, much concrete work is yet to be done, in order to resolve the various delicate questions that remain open.
One such regards the case of “clandestine” Bishops who have not yet been recognized by the Chinese Government: an activity in which the Holy See is deeply engaged and whose sole objective is the unity of the Church and the possibility for millions of Chinese Catholics to profess their faith in full communion with the Pope.