Pope Francis today stressed the “respect” in which the Catholic Church holds China as he noted the country’s “great history of wisdom,” in an interview to mark the upcoming Chinese New Year.
China “has always been for me a reference point of greatness. A great country. But more than a country, a great culture, with an inexhaustible wisdom,” said the pontiff.
“I believe that the great richness of China today lies in looking to the future from a present that is sustained by the memory of its cultural past,” Pope Francais said in an interview with the Asia Times published by the Vatican press service.
The pontiff did not directly address the status of the Church in China - a government-appointed Chinese Catholic association nominates its own bishops - but recalled early efforts of 16th Century Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci to evangelise Chinese while respecting native culture.
Unconfirmed reports from the Vatican have suggested an accord was in reach between the Holy See and Beijing on the pontiff being able to nominate Catholic bishops in China.
Both sides are in regular if discreet contact though some Chinese Catholics - who number an estimated 12 million - have accused the Vatican of being prepared to sacrifice their interests on the altar of reconciliation.
The two countries have not had diplomatic relations for more than 60 years with Beijing making a renewal dependent on the Vatican cutting ties with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.
“Ricci’s experience teaches us that it is necessary to enter into dialogue with China, because it is an accumulation of wisdom and history. It is a land blessed with many things,” said Francis.