With his “Message to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church,” September 26, 2018, the most authoritative voice, the pope himself, explained the significance of the agreement signed on September 22, 2018, in Beijing between the Holy See and the authorities of the People’s Republic of China, assuming responsibility for it all. The message is clear and removes all possible doubt about the intention and spirit that animated Pope Francis in encouraging and guiding his collaborators along the path of delicate negotiations that led to this first important result. Contrary voices have not, in fact, been missing; contrary sentiments, doubts and perplexities have been expressed. The pope is fully aware of them and takes responsibility (cf. “Message of Pope Francis to the Catholics of China and to the Universal Church,” No. 1). Francis serenely and confidently proclaims his words not only for those who rejoice, but also for those who suffer. We permit ourselves to underline some aspects of the ample and rich papal text.
Above all, Pope Francis places himself in full continuity with his two most recent predecessors. They had explicitly desired and undertaken the path of negotiations with the Chinese authorities for the good of the Church in China. Indeed, his Message contains many citations from the famous “Letter of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to the Chinese Catholics” of 2007, and he takes crucial points from it, not only on relations with the authorities, but also on the life of the Church in China and its mission. There is not, therefore, any doubt that Francis intends to walk in the footsteps of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict: “Through this process, the Holy See has desired – and continues to desire – only to attain the Church’s specific spiritual and pastoral aims, namely, to support and advance the preaching of the Gospel, and to reestablish and preserve the full and visible unity of the Catholic community in China” (ibid., No. 2).