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Pope Francis Calls for Freedom of Worship for Catholics in China

The Pope agreed to recognize seven Chinese Government appointed bishops in 2018 when the CCP acknowledged the pope as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church

Pope Francis called for freedom of worship for Catholics in China amid increasing tension between the religion’s leadership and the Chinese Communist Party. 

His statement comes about six weeks after the latest report of China violating its agreement with the Vatican over the appointment of bishops.

Practicing Catholics have historically faced harassment and persecution within the communist country.

During his weekly audience on May 24, the pope prayed that the Gospel “may be preached in its fullness, beauty and (in) freedom … for the good of the Catholic Church and of all Chinese society.” He noted that it was the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China.

“A special thought to all those who suffer, pastors and faithful, so that in the communion and solidarity of the universal Church, they can experience consolation and encouragement,” said Pope Francis, per CNA

Religious activities and services are strictly regulated by the Chinese Communist Party even though the country’s constitution promises freedom of religion. The CCP is officially atheist. 

“Relations between the Vatican and Communist China have been difficult for decades, but in 2018 the two sides reached a historic and contested agreement on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops in China,” reports Reuters. “The deal was a bid to ease a longstanding divide across mainland China between an underground flock loyal to the pope and a state-backed official church. For the first time since the 1950s, both sides recognised the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.”

Crisis Magazine reported that the “architect” of the agreement, Cardinal Parolin, said, “The Church in China does not want to replace the state, but wants to make a positive and serene contribution for the good of all.” 

Shortly after the agreement was signed, a Vatican-appointed Bishop was arrested and taken to a “reeducation camp” by CCP officials. 

Additionally, “one month after the diplomatic pact, the Chinese government contemptuously destroyed two Catholic shrines in the provinces of Shanxi and Guizhou,” per Crisis Magazine

According to The Guardian:

As of 2018, the government has implemented sweeping rules on religious practices, adding more requirements for religious groups and barring unapproved organisations from engaging in any religious activity. But the campaign is not just about managing behaviour. One of the goals of a government work plan for “promoting Chinese Christianity” between 2018 and 2022 is “thought reform.” The plan calls for “retranslating and annotating” the Bible, to find commonalities with socialism and establish a “correct understanding” of the text.

In April, China broke the agreement by installing Bishop Shen Bin – who was an auxiliary bishop at the Diocese of Haimen – in Shanghai as the bishop of the largest Roman Catholic diocese in the mainland. Pope Francis was reportedly informed just a few days prior to the installation.

As of 2023, there are an estimated 12 million Catholics in China — representing less than 1% of the country’s population.

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