- Dec 10, 2019
China and the Vatican are planning a first-ever exchange of artworks for exhibits in China and the Vatican Museums, as the two states forge ahead with soft diplomacy amid a stalemate in negotiations to heal decades of diplomatic estrangement.
While the Chinese government technically recognizes Catholicism as one of five religions in the country, it does not recognize many Church leaders appointed by the Vatican, driving many among the Catholic Church leadership and laity underground. Since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he has sought to tighten the government’s control over religious organizations.
China and the Vatican have had no formal relations for nearly seven decades, since Beijing ordered Chinese Catholics to cut ties with the Holy See soon after the foundation of the Communist state in 1949. Years of persecution followed, until Mao Zedong’s death 40 years ago led to the reopening of churches and freeing of imprisoned priests, some for decades, under the party’s anti-foreign and anti-religious policies. Popes from John Paul II onward have expressed hope for restoring diplomatic ties.
Yu Zhengsheng, one of China’s top party leaders in charge of religion gave a speech in which he made it clear that the Catholic Church in China has to prioritize being Chinese. Due to events involving some Chinese Catholic bishops, relations between China and the Vatican have cooled.
Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong, wrote in a letter that China and the Vatican will move closer to “reconciliation and communion on the aspects of law, pastoral care and relationships.” The cardinal also added that there will be no more “division between the open and underground communities in the Church in China.”