On the red stage installed for the occasion on the hockey track of the Steppe Arena in Oulan-Bator sits an impressive wooden cross. Stylized flowers in Mongolian fashion adorn the sculpture. With their mauve outfits and their straw hats, young girls who have come expressly from Vietnam await the arrival of Pope Francis on the scene. In the blue and yellow stands, the faithful from several Asian countries attended, on Sunday, September 3, the m celebrated by the head of the Catholic Church as part of his apostolic visit to Mongolia, a country whose 1,400 Catholics are insufficient in number to fill the 2,000 seats in the stadium on their own.
It is obviously to China, which shares 4,677 kilometers of border with Mongolia, that the sovereign pontiff thought Sunday more than of all the other Asian nations represented in the audience. During his traditional papamobile ride, before m, the Argentine pope stopped in front of a large Chinese flag held by the faithful who had come to meet him from their country. An hour and a half later, at the end of the m, the standing pope gave one hand to Cardinal Stephen Chow, the bishop of Hong Kong, and the other to John Tong Hon, his predecessor. With the two prelates at his side, the pontiff addressed the Chinese faithful, but also undoubtedly the authorities of the country: “I would like to take advantage of their presence to send warm greetings to the noble Chinese people. To Chinese Catholics, I ask to be good Christians and good citizens”.
In China, Catholics are tightly controlled, even repressed by the authorities. In an attempt to improve their lot, the Vatican, under Francis, tried to find common ground with the government in Beijing. In 2018, the two parties concluded an agreement – renewed twice since – the letter of which remains secret but which establishes a shared procedure for the appointment of bishops. Its aim is to bring together the official Church, whose hierarchs were appointed by Beijing, and the underground Church, whose prelates Rome chose.
Openness to Beijing
Since his election, Francis has also repeated his desire to be able to go to China one day and offers the Beijing authorities signs of his good disposition. His recommendation to the faithful of the country to be “good citizens” seems to fall within this framework. “The idea is to reure the Chinese government: Catholics have no vocation to become dissidents”, analyzes Michel Chambon, researcher at the Asia Research Institute, University of Singapore. The Vatican sees in Stephen Chow, recently created cardinal, a bridge between Rome and Beijing. The prelate visited the Chinese capital in April and is expected to return there soon. But for lack of authorization from Beijing, no hierarch of the Chinese Catholic Church could go to Mongolia for the visit of Francis.
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