There has been a massive police and security presence all day in and around the Vatican and the center of Rome as Turkey’s president met with Pope Francis and visited a few Vatican sites before proceeding to meetings with Italian officials, including the president. Helicopters have flown overhead for hours, circling Vatican City and neighboring areas.

I’ve heard helicopters over my home for many hours: the last one near the Vatican was about 4 pm. I could see the helicopters from my office balcony and also saw some when I went to Pius XII Square at 3 pm to film my segment for At Home with Jim and Joy. They were circling the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo where there had been a small demonstration by some Kurds.

Perhaps only those who live in Washington (or another world capital) can understand what it means to have traffic snarled when a foreign leader visits or the president leaves the White House for some appointment. It was snarled in a lot of areas in Rome today – so I was told by friends with cars and motorbikes!

This was the first time in 59 years since a Turkish leader and the Pope have met in the Vatican. The previous Pope to receive a Turkish leader in Vatican City was St. John XXII. It would have been a natural gesture as he was for several years the apostolic nuncio to Turkey, though he lived in Istanbul. I visited that residence when I was a member of the Holy See delegation to the U.N. Conference on Human Settlements that took place over a period of several weeks in June 1996. Pope John was much loved during the time he spent in Turkey – no surprise at all if you have ever studied this Pope or read his biography!

A heads/up for VATICAN INSIDER this weekend: I usually tell you about my guest in the interview segment of Vatican Insider on my Friday blog but I’m giving you advance notice a few days early as I want to be absolutely sure you tune in this weekend to my conversation with Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews as we talk about the very troubling situation in mainland China and the issues between China and the Vatican.

Fr. Bernardo and I have known each other for over 20 years, and we first met when I was working at the Vatican and was a member of the Holy See delegation to the September 1995 United Nations Conference on Women hosted by Beijing. China. The focus, of course, was on women’s issues and the U.N. conference but I learned a great deal about China in that time, especially on matters of religious freedom.

I learned even more six years later when I spent 12 days in Taiwan, with each and every day devoted to visiting churches and schools, attending meetings with priests and nuns and the late Cardinal Paul Shan whom I visited in Kaoshiung. I shared copious meals with religious from many dozens of Orders, missionary and not, from many countries. They were all studying the Chinese language, culture and history and to a person were waiting for the day when there would be true religious freedom in mainland China and they could go there to live, teach, preach, run schools and hospitals and kindergartens and nursing homes.

Twelve days in Taiwan – that could have been the title of a documentary! What I learned from those priests and nuns about their time in Taiwan delighted me. What I learned about the lack of religious freedom in China, the story of the Patriotic Church and the “underground” Church, deeply saddened me.

I remain sad, as you have undoubtedly guessed from what I’ve posted in recent days about China, in particular the Vatican’s plans that, we hear, may be announced in weeks or perhaps months.

I have followed events in China ever since those heady days on the mainland (3 weeks) and my time in Taiwan.

Today I post two more fascinating reports on China, and soon will post another with reaction from Chinese Catholics to reports of an agreement of some kind between the Vatican and the Chinese government.


In a private audience on Monday, Pope Francis meets with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, discussing the country’s Catholic community, its hosting of refugees, and the situation in the Middle East.

Pope Francis met with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his entourage on Monday at a private audience in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. It was the first time in 59 years that a Turkish president has visited the Vatican.

A statement from the Holy See Press Office said their discussions were “cordial” and that the two men spoke about the two states’ bilateral relations. The Holy Father and President Erdogan spoke about “the situation of the country, the condition of the Catholic community, efforts in the reception of the many refugees, and the challenges linked to this.”

They also discussed the situation in the Middle East, giving special attention “to the status of Jerusalem”. Pope Francis and Turkey’s president, it said, highlighted “the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law.”

At the time of the exchange of gifts, Francis gave Erdogan a medallion representing an angel and explained: “This is an angel of peace that strangles the demon of war. It is a symbol of a world based on peace and justice.” The Pope also offered Erdogan an etching with the design of St. Peter’s Basilica as it was in 1600, a copy of the encyclical Laudato sì and the message for the World Day of Peace this year.

Erdogan gifted the Pope a large ceramic picture with the panorama of Istanbul and a box set of books by the Muslim theologian Mevlana Rumi.

The meeting with the Pope lasted about 50 minutes, only the interpreters were present. “I thank you for your interest,” Erdogan said to Francis, according to the journalists present. The Pope in turn thanked him for the visit. It is rare that the Pope and a leader speak for more than 30 minutes.

Erdogan was accompanied by a delegation – a procession of about thirty cars and minivans – comprising twenty people. Among them also the president’s wife and daughter and five ministers. There were six women in all (of whom four wore the veil).

President Erdogan afterwards met with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States. (Vatican News and AsiaNews)


by Fr. Peter

A priest of the official Church, recalls the 88 year-old bishop that the Vatican wants to replace with an illegitimate bishop, to please the regime. Msgr. Zhuang Jianjian became an underground bishop at the behest of the Vatican in 2006. Cardinal. Zen and Msgr. Zhuang, image of the faithful Church, “which provokes an immense sadness and a sense of impotence”. The hopes of Cardinal Parolin to console “the past and present sufferings of Chinese Catholics”.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The Vatican’s decision to replace Msgr. Pietro Zhuang Jianjian with another bishop (currently excommunicated), to please the Chinese government, is provoking pain and confusion in China. In this reflection, an official Church priest, Fr. Peter, expresses sorrow at the way this underground Church bishop is being treated, who went underground by Vatican order in 2006. Fr. Peter also recalls the attempts Card. Joseph Zen to communicate with Pope Francis to avoid another “Mindszenty case”. Unlike certain images released by some media, the attempt by Card. Zen and the tears of Msgr. Zhuang are viewed as “impotent” and “sad.” Greater suffering for priests and more problems of conscience for the faithful in China.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of this column, that is, Fr. Peter’s letter: http://www.asianews.it/news-en/The-tears-of-Chinese-bishops.-A-portrait-of-Msgr.-Zhuang,-bishop-of-Shantou-42999.html


(America Magazine – Gerald O’Connell)

(I’ve known Gerry for years and have always trusted his writing, his experience and his sources. I find this to be an excellent piece. I give the first three paragraphs, then the last three and finally a link to the entire article.

The last three paragraphs explain my sadness and why I personally have so many questions about what seems to be a fait accompli between China and the Vatican.

My questions:
Will China free those whom they are detaining on religious grounds?
Will China rebuild the churches that have been destroyed?
Will the Vatican be allowed TOTAL freedom on naming bishops, administering parishes and schools and other entities?
Will the Catholic Church be allowed to build new churches where they are needed?
Will Christians be allowed religious freedom throughout the country?

One thing I can’t imagine happening – surely not in the near future – is the Vatican paying tribute to those martyred for their faith in China.

Here’s Gerry’s column:

An accord between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China “is almost made” and could be signed in the coming months, thereby opening a new phase in the relations between them, according to a senior Vatican source informed on the secret negotiations between the two sides.

The source, who requested anonymity, told America that the negotiations have reached this crucial stage following the visit by a Holy See delegation to Beijing last December when, for the first time since the Chinese communist government expelled the papal nuncio from China in 1951, Vatican officials were able to meet and speak with two bishops from the underground church community.

The Holy See’s five-person delegation, led by Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who has been involved in Sino-Vatican relations since 1983, traveled to Beijing just before Christmas for another meeting of the Joint Working Group that was established in 2014. The J.W.G. was set up after the two sides signed a framework document of intent regarding the nomination of bishops. It was tasked with resolving the various problematic elements in that text. Since then, it has met around 12 times, alternately in Beijing and the Vatican. In previous sessions, it reached agreement on most of the key issues in the framework text, including the most important one for the Holy See: that the pope shall have the final say in the nomination of bishops.

Final paragraphs:

No one in the Vatican believes the accord will resolve all the problems of the Catholic Church in China or in Sino-Vatican relations. But it is considered a necessary start for the building of mutual trust and understanding.

It should be noted, however, that the accord will not abolish the state structures that control the Church in China today or the democratic election of candidates to be bishops; they all remain in place. Moreover, myriad important questions will still need to be resolved. These include: the situation of almost 30 underground bishops and their communities, the release of the two bishops that disappeared several years ago, the recognition of the bishops’ conference and agreement on the number of dioceses, the situation of Bishop Ma in Shanghai, the possibility for Chinese bishops to visit the Vatican and for the Holy See’s officials to visit Catholic communities in China, and for the Holy See to open an office in Beijing for relations with the government and the church in the mainland.

It is important to mention, too, that the question of diplomatic relations and the question of Taiwan have not been addressed so far in the negotiations between China and the Holy See. They are not yet on the agenda, nor is a visit of Pope Francis to China on the horizon.