Toward a Fully Chinese and Fully Catholic Church: The path indicated by Benedict XVI and Francis

Federico Lombardi, SJ

 Federico Lombardi, SJ / Church Life / 16 January 2018

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The Chinese people and its great country occupy an important place in the heart of Pope Francis, whose vision is open to the world. He has in fact spoken about China many times in tones of cordial admiration and real trust. It is enough to remember his words when flying over China while going to and from Korea,[1] and above all in the interview he granted to Francesco Sisci of the Asia Times.[2] There is no doubt that he would be delighted to finally set foot on Chinese soil.

It is also true that the interest of Francis is shared in China, not only by Catholics, but by all those who look beyond the frontiers of the country, desiring an openness to the world and an ever more intense exchange with other peoples and cultures. Such people have understood that they have in Rome an interlocutor – one may well say a friend – on whom they can count for understanding in their effort to insert themselves into the family of peoples.

In the eyes of the Chinese, Francis has some advantages with respect to his predecessors: he is not European and therefore does not belong to that continent of colonizing peoples who made China feel their military power and the weight of their economic interests, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries; he was not even directly involved in the historical confrontation with the communist ideology and the regimes it inspired; he comes from another continent, is the child of emigrants, and is profoundly rooted in a popular reality to which he continually makes reference. He is a member of a religious family that in its history has drawn near to China with respect and an ability for fruitful dialogue that has been seen for centuries as the high point of the relationship between the great Asian country and the West. We remember here Matteo Ricci, Adam Schall, Ferdinand Verbiest, Giuseppe Castiglione…, all persons the Chinese hold in great respect for their contribution to the cultural history of China: they were Jesuits who had their own Chinese names by which they are remembered and studied even now.

Obviously, Francis is the leader of a religious community that has followers in China, people who are therefore especially near to his heart. It seems, however, that the Chinese understand that not only his followers, but all the members of their people are dear to him, because he looks with respect and friendship toward all the peoples of the world, without reserve or exception. When Francis speaks with conviction of the necessity of building peace among peoples, the Chinese feel the echo of the ideal of “harmony” that is familiar[3] to them and, given that he can claim no military or economic power, they have no reason to doubt his sincerity.

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