Vatican hints that Pope Francis may meet Xi Jinping

Any encounter in Rome this week would be the first between a Chinese leader and a pope reporter, Hong Kong 
March 20, 2019

Pope Francis waves to the crowd before faithful holding a Chinese flag during his weekly general audience at St Peter’s Square on June 15, 2016. Senior Vatican sources have said that the pope is willing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping this week. (Photo by AFP)

Speculation is growing that Pope Francis might meet Chinese President Xi Jinping this week in Rome.

Although a visit to the Vatican is not on Xi’s official schedule for his state visit to Italy, Monaco and France from March 21-26, a senior Vatican source claimed that the pope is willing to meet Xi and that the president’s intermediaries had made overtures to the Vatican, according to a Reuters report on March 17. 

The report also quoted another Vatican source who said a visit could be inserted into Xi’s schedule “at the last minute.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on March 18 that he was not aware of rumors about a possible meeting between the pope and Xi in Rome.

“China remains sincere as always about improving relations with the Vatican and has made unremitting efforts in this regard,” he said.

Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera reported on March 14 that the pope said that even though there are no official diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China, he could still meet Xi outside the walls of the Vatican City.

Any encounter would be the first in history between a Chinese leader and a pope.

“The Holy See to nurture no distrust or hostility toward any country,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, wrote in the introduction of a new book on China due to be published on March 25 but disclosed by media in advance at this critical moment.

He also pointed out that the Catholic Church is not a “foreigner” to China but an integral and active part of Chinese history.

However, a Hong Kong Catholic political commentator believes that even if Xi meets the pope or Cardinal Parolin, the meeting will not achieve any consensus or breakthrough.

“There will just be a political performance rather than achieving concrete results,” Sang Pau told

“While China and the Vatican are walking closer to each other, senior Vatican officials still fail to understand the fact that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) is the same as the German Nazis in essence. It would be worrying to learn that the Vatican still believes in a CCP which comes to help the poor and the disadvantaged.”

Even if President Xi were to meet Pope Francis, the Chinese leader is not likely to make any concessions, Sang said.

“It is Pope Francis who has been giving way with a hope that the president would become more lenient by allowing members of the underground communities to surface,” he said.

“This is indeed what President Xi wishes to see, too, as the members of the underground community will also come under the control of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.”

Sang urged the Vatican to step back and understand that improved relations with Beijing cannot bring Chinese Catholics real religious freedom or strengthen the China Church.

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