Updated: February 12, 2021 03:10 AM GMT
Taiwanese ambassador Mathew Lee meets Pope Francis at the Vatican on Feb. 8. (Photo: Embassy of the Republic of China to the Holy See)
Pope Francis has met with Taiwan’s ambassador to the Vatican to extend his special greetings and blessings to Taiwanese people for the lunar new year.
Ambassador Mathew Lee met the pope on Feb. 8 on the sidelines of the Vatican’s annual meeting with the diplomatic corps and conveyed new year greetings on behalf of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and the Taiwanese people.
“Pope was in good spirits, wished a good start to the lunar year and promised to continue to pray for Taiwan,” Lee reportedly said.
During the meeting, the pope described 2020 as the year of “despair” that saw the world fall “seriously ill” due to the coronavirus. He said religious freedom is a “primary and fundamental human right” that must be protected as the world races to protect lives from the virus.
Meanwhile, President Tsai extended a lunar new year message on Feb. 10 that had a special focus on Hong Kong and its struggle for democracy.
Tsai said that “though democracy is not perfect, it is mankind's best system and they should keep the faith in it.”
On Feb. 9, Tsai conveyed best wishes to China for the new year but also called for a resumption of dialogue with Beijing over unresolved bilateral issues.
Tsai’s government has offered support to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong since massive protests erupted in 2019 against the Chinese move to extend its legal systems on the island.
Taiwan has also offered sanctuary to many Hong Kong citizens who fled the massive crackdown in the former British colony, much to the chagrin of Beijing, which accused Taiwan of endorsing violence and crimes.
The East Asian island, officially called the Republic of China, is an independent democratic nation that borders China, Japan and the Philippines. Communist China claims it as its own territory but Taiwan maintains sovereignty thanks to considerable global support, especially from the West.
Taiwan has maintained non-diplomatic relations with the Vatican since 1922 and entered full diplomatic relations in 1942. The first Taiwanese ambassador to the Holy See was posted in 1943.
Taiwan has a population of about 24 million. Buddhists account for about 35 percent, Taoism for about 33 percent and Christians are estimated at about 4 percent, while some 18 percent of Taiwanese identify themselves as non-religious, according to the Index Mundi website.
Catholics in Taiwan are estimated to number more than 220,000 and covered by one archdiocese and six dioceses.