A veteran diplomat from the Holy See gave a talk in Taiwan recently during which he discussed the recent Sino-Vatican provisional agreement, saying it is aimed at unifying church communities on the Chinese mainland. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, a former Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the European Office of the United Nations in Geneva and to the World Trade Organization (2003-2016), on Oct. 26, gave a speech on the theme of "Human Rights and Multilateral Diplomacy: a Perspective of the Holy See." His audience was composed of faculty members and students at Fu-Jen Catholic University in Xinzhuang District of New Taipei City. After his speech, he said Pope Francis signed an agreement with Beijing in September on the appointment of Chinese bishops in a bid to unite the church in China to render a more effective evangelization of the gospel. He said that agreement would help the so-called "underground church" integrate with official church communities on the Chinese mainland. "As one, they can serve as a greater witness in Chinese society and evangelize in a more effective way to non-Christians," the 78-year-old prelate said, adding the agreement was "strictly religious, not political." He explained how the Holy See's position on multilateral negotiations at the U.N. Human Rights Council, which was founded in 2006, and how it is grounded on respect for human dignity. By contributing to a correct understanding and implementation of human rights, the Holy See's diplomatic mission attempts to promote justice, peace and solidarity without any boundaries, as well as ensuring human life is respected and protected from conception to its natural end, he said. As such, the Holy See remains opposed to procured abortion and euthanasia, and controversial issues of "gender identity," he added. On the question of religious freedom, he quoted Pope St. John Paul II as saying that it is "a litmus test for respect of all the other human rights." Special importance has been attached to promote and protect this fundamental freedom so that religion is not confined to the private sphere, but is also granted an adequate role in the public space. In response to a question on whether the Holy See's moral standing on human rights was weakened by its agreement with China and silence over Beijing's human rights abuses and religious freedom clampdowns,Archbishop Tomasi noted that "sometimes it is not prudent to point out the failure of religious freedom in a specific country." "It's not because we undervalue freedom of religion, it's to avoid greater damage…. We have patience and goodwill to achieve more for the good of the community than by direct confrontation," he explained. The agreement is "a prudential judgment, not a question of principle. It's a question of wisdom, practice and balance on the risks and the benefits." Pope Francis, whom he knows quite well, is a genuine man that "we can trust," he added. The main purpose of Archbishop Tomasi's visit to Taiwan was to deliver the opening address of the "2018 Global Health Forum in Taiwan" on Oct. 28, which was themed "Resilience: New Challenges and Opportunities for Global Health."
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Speaking to about 1,200 participants from 34 countries, he noted that Catholic social teaching "has been promoting conditions that made resilience meaningful." By quoting Pope Francis' ecological encyclical Laudato Si'
(2015), he reminded participants of the need for dialogue and solidarity to ensure sustainable and integral human development. Talking about a resilient health system,Archbishop Tomasi pointed out the need to maintain a person-centered approach and respect human dignity, in the midst of scientific and professional excellence, and that health care workers should be aware of "the importance of listening, accompanying and supporting people they care for." The prelate also expressed appreciation to Taiwan's government for its international cooperation and connection with low-income countries to support them in developing a resilient health system. Archbishop Tomasi is currently a member of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development at the Holy See, which was founded in January 2017. The Holy See, the only European state with diplomatic relations with Taiwan, was present for the first time at this annual forum since 2005. Health and Medical Service ministers of 10 other diplomatic allies of Taiwan took part in the Ministerial Round Table during the forum, joining experts and scholars in discussing topics related to resiliency, such as infectious diseases, crises faced by health systems, natural disaster challenges and humanitarian relief efforts. Taiwan (Republic of China) now only has 17 diplomatic allies, mostly in Central America and the Pacific, with five countries having switched to mainland China since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in 2016. The recent Sino-Vatican agreement has sparked concerns that the Holy See would give up Taiwan and normalize ties with Beijing in the near future.