LISBON – A group of young people from China attending World Youth Day in Lisbon this week have praised Pope Francis’s kindness and invited him to visit, saying Catholics in the country have a strong faith.

Speaking to Crux, one of the pilgrims, named Scholastica, said World Youth Day (WYD) has been “so amazing for us, we can be here, and we can see so many people from different countries and we can see the joy and the energy of the youth.”

“I can see the hope of our church, of our Catholic Church,” she said.

There are roughly 13 million Catholics in China. Around 300 are attending WYD in Portugal, some 50 of whom are in Scholastica’s group.

She described Pope Francis as “a kind person,” saying, “We really want to see him.”

Pointing to Francis’s affinity for China, Scholastica said Catholics there know he likes China, and they like him too, and want to see him come one day.

“I would like to tell the pope, ‘Welcome to China! We want to see the pope in China!’” she said, saying, “We would like to have World Youth Day in China one day. This is my dream, we dream for it to happen one day, to have World Youth Day in China and we can see all the people come to China.”

Despite China officially being an atheistic country, Scholastica said faith there “is really strong, the people, even if we suffer or not, we keep our faith. We believe in God, and we believe our Catholics have a strong faith.”

“Any difficulty, any struggle, we can overcome just by the grace of God. There are many days that are vital in the battle, some of us are even in difficulty, but still, grace is enough for us,” she said.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has made repeated efforts to reach out to China and to engage Chinese authorities in dialogue.

In 2018 the Vatican signed a two-year controversial agreement with Chinese officials on episcopal appointments, the terms of which have never been made public, but which allows the pope to select from a list of candidates put forward by Chinese authorities.

The deal, which has been renewed twice and has been harshly criticized by both civil leaders and prominent Catholic prelates, was aimed at ending the divide between a so-called underground flock loyal to Rome, and an official state-backed church which has been in place more or less since the 1950s.

However, Chinese authorities have twice violated that agreement this year by transferring bishops without the Vatican’s knowledge or consent, including the appointment of a new bishop in Shanghai, transferring him from another diocese.

The Vatican recently officialized that transfer, announcing the pope’s own formal appointment of the prelate to Shanghai, but the announcement was accompanied by in interview with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin that an official liaison office be established in Beijing to improve communication and increase collaborative decision-making.

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