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China-Vatican deal shows positive effects: China expert

The possibility of two Chinese bishops attending the upcoming Synod is 'a clear fruit' of the 2018 agreement
Pope Francis appeared to seek to reassure China during his visit to neighboring Mongolia.

Pope Francis appeared to seek to reassure China during his visit to neighboring Mongolia. (Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Published: September 25, 2023 12:07 PM GMT
Updated: September 25, 2023 12:15 PM GMT

The Vatican-China agreement signed five years ago yielded positive results despite the dialogue between Beijing and Rome not progressing as desired, says a China expert Belgian missionary priest.

Two Chinese bishops attending the upcoming Synod on Synodality beginning in the Vatican next month is obviously a clear fruit of the agreement, said Scheut missionary Father Jeroom Heyndrickx.

Heyndrickx has spent decades in Taiwan and China as a missionary and seminary professor starting in 1957 and was a member of the Vatican Commission on China between 2007 and 2013, before returning to Belgium.

He made the remarks on the China-Vatican deal in an interview with the Vatican’s Fides news agency, on the fifth anniversary of the 2018 Sino-Vatican deal, on Sept. 22.

“The presence of two bishops of mainland China in the next Synod is obviously a clear fruit of the agreement with China of Pope Francis to initiate ongoing dialogue and exchange,” Heyndrickx told interviewer Gianni Valente.

Recently four Chinese bishops visited the Catholic University of Leuvain in Belgium and then visited France and the Netherlands in early September with permission from Chinese authorities, the priest said.

This was “another concrete fruit” of the 2018 agreement, he added.

The main purpose of the secretive deal, the missionary priest said, was the “unity” of the Church.

“Thanks to this Agreement all new Catholic bishops are ordained in full communion with the Pope and are now legitimate and recognized by both the Holy See and China. That removes one main obstacle to more unity in the Church. This way a historical move towards more unity in the Church is happening under our own eyes,” he explained.

Heyndrickx said he is aware of the limitations and consequent criticism of the deal including fewer bishop ordinations since it was signed and the ongoing secrecy.

“True, the dialogue with China did not progress so smoothly even after the Pope’s agreement. Why should we hide this? We too feel disappointed that not more bishops have been appointed to fill the empty seats for bishops in more than 25 dioceses in China,” he said.

The priest said there is no denying freedom of religious belief is restricted in China but criticized Western political parties for exclusively pointing to these aspects of the agreement.

“They criticize the Pope’s efforts to dialogue and promote the spiritual goals of the Church. Why? Perhaps to promote their own political goal. But facts like the recent visit of Catholic Chinese bishops in Europe proves that their criticism is unfounded,” he said.

The missionary said the visit of Chinese bishops in Belgium provided a great opportunity for exchange and collaboration.

The encounters happened in an atmosphere of Christian brotherhood seeking how the Churches in China and the West can exchange and confirm each other in faith, he said.

“Churches in the West these days welcome this confirmation in faith. They are inspired and confirmed by the faith of Christians in China, while the Church in China feels strengthened by the brotherly welcome they receive in the West,” he added.

This encounter is in contrast to the sixty years of tension and suspicion, division even inside the Church between “unofficial” and “official” or legitimate, or illegitimate church in China, he pointed out.

This “giant step” would not be possible without the pope’s agreement.

“Achieving more unity inside the Church by crossing beyond misunderstandings inside the Church is a missionary achievement of the pope. We need to open our eyes to more remarkable evolutions these days,” he said.

Pope Francis’ recent visit to Mongolia was surprising as it sent a powerful testimony to the Church and the whole world, he said.

The visit, he said, reminded him of the time of October 1991, when the Vatican and his religious order sent him to Mongolia before the Catholic mission in the country resumed.

Since then, the tiny Church has been offering great services with education, and healthcare for the poor, orphans and disabled.

Despite some negative news that comes to us from China, the open contacts between the Church of China and the Universal Church have increased significantly in recent years, he said.

“It is evident that this happens thanks to the positive ongoing dialogue with China by Pope Francis. We are all invited to be more aware of this and support the untiring efforts of this Pope of dialogue in service of the Church,” he said.

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