China still silent on Vatican agreement: ‘Like a shame and ineffable hope’

Unofficial voices (from the Vatican side) say that the renewal of the agreement will be signed tomorrow. But a wall of silence remains from China, or quotations from the Vatican only. The hypothesis is that the dialogue with China has reached an impasse: China wants the Holy See to break relations with Taiwan and the Vatican wants the recognition of unofficial bishops. The second elegy of Rainer Maria Rilke.

by Bernardo Cervellera

10/21/2020, 12.47

Pope Francis, left, on May 7, 2019, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, on June 29, 2019. (AP Photos)

Rome (AsiaNews) – For weeks now we have been asking various Chinese personalities to tell us something about the Sino-Vatican agreement, if it is being debated among members of the Party, if the newspapers mention it. The only answer we are greeted with is silence: everything is silent, nobody will mention it, it is as if it were a state secret at the highest levels.

The provisional agreement signed between China and the Vatican on 22 September 2018, valid for two years, has already expired. But as Card. Parolin pointed out, as it was implemented from 22 October, its deadline is delayed by one month, until tomorrow.

Last October 18, in an article by Massimo Franco in “Corriere della Sera”, an anonymous Vatican figure confirmed “without further caution” that the agreement will be renewed tomorrow, with “simultaneous” communication at noon from the Vatican, at 18 in Beijing.

It is strange enough that such an important step from the point of view of Vatican diplomacy and for the evangelization of China should be thus announced, anonymously and moreover in a secular newspaper. But what is even stranger is that the “Global Times”, the magazine of the “People’s Daily”, the official tool of the Chinese Communist Party, cites the Corriere della Sera and that article to confirm “the strong and healthy relationship between the two countries [ China and Vatican] for the appointment of bishops “.

But it says nothing about the renewal of the agreement. The Global Times itself admits that “no official announcement was made, and the Holy See press office did not respond to the request of the Global Times”. In any case – the article continues – the “observers” are “sure about the renewal” of the agreement.

The point is that all these “observers” cited are on the Vatican side, there is not even one Chinese political personality among them! Antonio Spadaro is however cited, who states that ” there is no reason to think that the agreement should be renewed in an uneventful way”.

And once again the official bishop of Mindong, the ex-excommunicated Vincenzo Zhan Silu, is quoted as saying that “the renewal of the agreement would send the Chinese Catholic Church a clear signal that the Vatican is pursuing a healthy development in China”.

The question that arises is this: why for such an important step do we prefer anonymous communication (from the Vatican) and non-communication from China?

We posed this same question to various Chinese Catholic personalities, whose answers can be summarized in the following considerations:

1. China is worried about other problems (Covid, US elections, poor economy, forthcoming Party Plenum, …) and the provisional agreement seems to be a very minor thing to give it due attention.

2. Beijing keeps the Vatican on the side-lines to increase pressure on the Vatican and gain concessions. According to various experts, the fundamental reason why China is involved in the dialogue with the Vatican is the possibility of diplomatic relations, which imply the breakdown of diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which would thus lose the only European country that recognizes the Republic of China. But the Vatican holds back on the Taiwan card to the end, to ask China for greater religious freedom.

3. The Vatican wants unofficial bishops to be recognized with the renewal of the agreement, even if they do not sign up for membership in the “independent Church”, which is what the Ministry of Religious Affairs wants. It is no coincidence that in recent weeks many unofficial bishops, not recognized by the government, have been captured and isolated for days and weeks (among them Mgr Giulio Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding; Mgr Pietro Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou; Mgr Guo Xijin of Mindong; ….) for talks with the authorities.

Either way, this mode of conducting the question is quite surprising: no personality is revealed, yet everyone says that there will be a renewal of the agreement. A verse by Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind in the second of the “Duino Elegies”: “Everything conspires to silence us, kind of like a silent shame, perhaps, a bit like a silent ineffable hope”.

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