“I admire China, its great culture and inexhaustible wisdom.” With these words, Pope Francis shows his esteem, respect, and great admiration for Chinese people and culture. He does it in an interview, which is in itself a historical event: Bergoglio, in fact, granted an interview (which lasted about an hour) to Asia Times, an online newspaper from Hong Kong. It was recorded on January 28 at the Vatican, but recently published on the occasion of the Chinese New Year (it will be celebrated on February 8). Without going into political or religious topics, the Pope stretches his arm directly to the Chinese nation and its government, sending his greetings to President Xi Jinping.
“The world should not fear China’s rapid growth”, Bergoglio says in his speech in English with Francesco Sisci, marking thus a renewed mutual interest in the relations between the Holy See and Beijing. These relations have probably never been so advanced after the ’49 rupture in diplomatic relations. Meetings and conferences are going on also between the papal and Chinese delegations, both in Beijing and in Rome, at the Vatican, on issues of bilateral interest, whose gravitational center is the question of bishops’ appointment. Beijing could pave the way for an agreement on this issue soon, recognizing that, on the choice of bishops (from a list of names “liked” by the parliament), the last word is up to the Pope. “For me, China has always been a point of reference. Rather than a country, it is a great culture whose wisdom is inexhaustible.”
Bergoglio remembers Matteo Ricci and Marco Polo, who “brought spaghetti to Italy. When I first flew over China (Francis was the first Pope ever to fly over the red nation on the occasion of his trip to Korea), on the plane I was told ‘in ten minutes we will enter Chinese airspace and send your greeting’, I confess that I felt a great emotion. Flying over this richness of culture and wisdom moved me. We do not have to fear challenges of any kind because everyone, men and women, have the ability to find ways of coexistence, respect, and mutual admiration. Obviously, technological knowledge cannot stay locked up in a country; it has the tendency to expand, spread, and communicate. It is obvious – he continued – that when communication becomes aggressive for self-defense, wars begin. Preserving the balance of peace is a great challenge.”
Bergoglio has not forgotten the old continent: according to Francis, also “Grandma Europe receives from this ancient country an ever-growing contribution”. Hence, we “must accept this challenge and take the risk of balancing this exchange for peace. Western and oriental worlds, as well as China have the ability to preserve the balance of peace and the strength to do so. “The Pope appreciates the end of China’s one-child policy, defined by the Pope himself as “a painful problem.” According to Francis, “the story of a people is in perpetual evolution: sometimes it walks faster, sometimes slower, sometimes it stops, sometimes it makes a mistake and has to go slightly back or takes the wrong way and has to go all the way back and take the right one. ” However, “when a people goes on it means that is making history. I think China’s people is going forward, and this is where its greatness lies. It is necessary to “take responsibility for our path” in order to be at “peace with our history.”
Francis believes that China’s greatness today consists in looking towards the “future. Shortlu before the new year, I send my best wishes and greetings to President Xi Jinping and to all Chinese people” with the “hope that you will never lose historical awareness of being a great nation, which has much to offer to the world. The world looks at your great wisdom”. To the whole nation goes the “hope to go forward, help, and cooperate with everyone for the sake of our common home and our common peoples.” It is the first time in two thousand years that a Pope sends his greetings to Chinese leaders for the Lunar New Year.
China is getting closer to the Holy See, and the Chinese government said it was happy to hear the Pope’s words. “We know about this important article: the Chinese side is always sincere in wanting to improve Sino-Vatican relations. To do so – it has added – we would like to keep this constructive set of important principles and meet half way in order to improve”.