20 September 2022, The Tablet

Kazakhstan – Francis reiterates commitment to dialogue with Beijing

Kazakhstan – Francis reiterates commitment to dialogue with Beijing

Pope Francis answers questions from journalists aboard his flight from Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, to Rome on Sep 15.
CNS photo/Paul Haring

On the return flight to Rome from Kazakhstan, Pope Francis was asked about religious freedom, in the context of the trial in Hong Kong of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun that was to begin on Monday 19 September. The cardinal was set to stand trial along with three other trustees of a humanitarian fund that provided financial and legal aid to Hong Kongers arrested during the 2019 demonstrations against a bill to allow political detainees in Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland for trial. The start of the trial was delayed on Monday, reportedly after a judge in the case tested positive for coronavirus.

“Having spoken about the importance of religious freedom at the Kazakhstan Congress,” a reporter asked Pope Francis, “do you consider the trial against Cardinal Zen a violation of religious freedom?"

The Pope replied: “To understand China takes a century, and we do not live for a century. The Chinese mentality is a rich mentality, and when it gets a little sick, it loses its richness; it is capable of making mistakes. In order to understand we have chosen the path of dialogue, open to dialogue.”

Referring to the Sino-Vatican deal primarily on the appointment of bishops that is due for renewal this autumn, Francis said: “There is a bilateral Vatican-Chinese commission that is going well, slowly, because the Chinese pace is slow, they have an eternity to go forward: they are a people of endless patience … It is not easy to understand the Chinese mentality, but it should be respected, I always respect this. And here in the Vatican, there is a dialogue commission that is going well, chaired by Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin and he is the person right now who knows the most about China and dialogue with the Chinese. 

“Qualifying China as undemocratic, I do not identify with that, because it's such a complex country ... yes, it is true that there are things that seem undemocratic to us. Cardinal Zen is going to trial these days, I think. And he says what he feels … I try to support the path of dialogue.”

Asked: “What about [Chinese President] Xi Jinping?”, who was in Kazakhstan at the same time as Francis, the Pope replied: “He had a State visit there, but I did not see him.” 

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