Subject:SCMP: Vatican officials on goodwill mission to China to build on bishops deal

Vatican officials on goodwill mission to China to build on bishops deal with Beijing after detention of underground Catholic priest

Confirmation of visit comes after detention of third underground Catholic priest from diocese in northern China

South China Morning Post

Mimi Lau
Published: 11:00pm, 17 Apr, 2019

Senior Vatican officials will visit Beijing this month to attend a horticultural exhibition as China and the Holy See press ahead with efforts to improve ties.

The Vatican confirmed on Tuesday that Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and council secretary Paul Tighe would inaugurate the Holy See Pavilion at the Beijing International Horticultural Exhibition on April 29.

The confirmation comes just days after a third priest from an underground Catholic diocese in northern China was detained without explanation.

Catholics in China are split between an official, government-controlled church whose bishops are chosen by the state, and an underground church loyal to the Vatican.

Relations between Beijing and the Vatican have improved in the last year, with the signing in September of a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops.

Confirming the invitation for the Vatican officials, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Wednesday that both sides had continued to talk since the signing and were working hard to improve relations.

Still, underground clergy have complained of being forced to toe the Communist Party line and of continued persecution by the state.

In the Xuanhua diocese in Hebei province, three underground priests have been detained without explanation in the last month.

Father Peter Zhang Guangjun was taken away by plain-clothes officials in Zhangjiakou on Sunday, following the detention of Bishop Augustine Cui Tai and Father Zhang Jianlin, according to the Hong Kong-based Union of Catholic Asian News.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, from the Hong Kong-based Holy Spirit Study Centre, said the detentions reflected serious abuses of power by local officials.

“Extreme measures are often deployed against local religious groups to ensure stability, but this will only breed further rebellion,” Lam said.

“It is a good start that China is willing to invite Vatican officials for visits but it does not mean we should stop raising the persecution faced by the church in China.

“We are happy to see cooperation but we do not wish to see grass-roots churches bullied and persecuted.”
Chinese bishop ‘missing’ despite historic deal between Beijing and Vatican

According to the Holy See, talks on the Vatican’s involvement in the exhibition have been under way since 2017.

The Holy See Pavilion at the “Live Green, Live Better” expo will cover about 200 square metres and display documents from the Vatican Apostolic Library on the medicinal properties of herbs and plants.

A reproduction of the painting Adam and Eve in the Earthly Paradise by Wenzel Peter will also be on show.

* This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Vatican officials to attend Beijing expo as ties warm up

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