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Last Sunday something curious happened in the Plaza de San Pedro. The Pope went out at noon as usual to the balcony of the Apostolic Palace for his Angelus address. Hours earlier, all accredited journalists had been given a copy of the speech by the Vatican. The text included some words that Pope Francis would dedicate to the situation that Hong Kong is going through after China imposed the new National Security Law that threatens the autonomy enjoyed by the former British colony.

The original script provided for the Pontiff to voice his concerns about Hong Kong's religious and social freedoms. "I would like to express my sincere concerns to the people who live there. In this current situation, the issues in question are undoubtedly very delicate and have been affecting the lives of everyone there," read the text to which the Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post.

The Pope was expected to call on the parties involved to handle the problems with "foresight, wisdom and authentic dialogue" that required "courage, humility, non-violence and respect for the dignity and rights of all involved ." And he would conclude by expressing his wish that "social life, especially religious life, can be expressed in complete and genuine freedom as prescribed in international laws and regulations."

That Sunday thousands of faithful awaited the Angelus of the head of the Catholic Church. Whether it was on the spot in the square or through the Vatican television channel. It usually refers to one or two international situations. In the first, he followed the script provided, praising the "request of the United Nations Security Council for an immediate and global ceasefire" of the armed conflicts in the world while the pandemic lasts. But there was no more. The paragraph on Hong Kong was never recited. Nobody in the Holy See gave an explanation to the journalists who asked about it.

Would the Pope have submitted to China's censorship? Didn't you want to anger the Asian giant? Was that part of the speech omitted at the last minute to protect Hong Kong's churches? Opinions have been expressed in all senses. But let's put some context to the relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

In the Asian country, to embrace the Catholic faith freely, one must pay homage to the Communist Party and not to the Pope. The Chinese Office of Religious Affairs established this guideline in 1957 to control the activities of Catholics. For this, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association appeared, to which they had to register to continue their worship.

A year later, a Chinese Franciscan from Wuhan City, Dong Guangqing, was the first bishop appointed by the Communist Party. Something that did not make any grace to the then Pope Pius XII, who wrote a harsh letter against these appointments: "This Patriotic Association intends that Catholics progressively adhere to the falsehoods of atheistic materialism, with which they deny God and reject all supernatural principles. "

In China there are 138 dioceses headed by 79 official bishops. Although there are no figures on how many Christians live in China . Some experts point out that there are 12 million. Others say that the figure is close to 70 million believers, half of whom would worship in churches faithful to the Communist Party. The other half would live underground, attending ceremonies in unofficial temples. Normally, churches that refuse to join the Catholic Patriotic Association are converted into propaganda centers, and the faithful are threatened.

Everything seemed to be changing when, a couple of years ago, China and the Vatican signed a historic agreement for the Holy See to recognize seven bishops from Beijing appointed by the communist regime. But this pushed the Chinese authorities to persecute with more force those churches that did not pay homage to the atheistic government of President Xi Jinping. As Renee Xia, director of the China Human Rights Defenders organization says: "Their goal is to pursue the heart of the underground Christian resistance."

Going back to today, many believe that the Pope's omitted words about Hong Kong are due to a strategy because the Vatican is renegotiating with Beijing on the 2018 agreement on the appointment of Chinese bishops. It could also be interpreted as self-censorship so as not to harm the Diocese of a city that has more than 400,000 Catholics (including Hong Kong and Filipino migrants), more than 300 priests and more than 50 parishes.

It is important to note that in the four categories of crimes - punishable by up to life in prison - the new National Security Law includes collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security. So some words considered critical by Beijing of the Pope could be interpreted as an intrusion into their internal affairs and could cause problems for the church in Hong Kong.

On the new legislation, the administrator of the Diocese of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has also spoken this week: "I believe that the National Security Law will have no effect on religious freedom since article 32 of the law Basic guarantees that we have religious freedom and that we can openly preach and have worship ceremonies as well as participate in religious activities, "wrote the Cardinal in the newspaper of the Diocese. Tong Hon also indicated that his diocese's relationship with the Vatican should not be considered "collusion with foreign forces."

Instead, his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, did express his fears before the law because he believes that the new rules can be used to subvert the religious freedom that Hong Kong citizens currently have.

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

Know more

  • Hong Kong
  • The Vatican
  • National Security Law
  • Pope Francis I

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