As you know, I continue to follow events in mainland China given the apparent desire of the Holy See to establish some kind of diplomatic ties with this communist country. In addition to friends I have in Asia, AsiaNews and UCAN are my principal sources of information because I know they have reliable people on the ground as well as many contacts with the faithful – both the government approved Patriotic Catholic Association and the persecuted “underground” Church.

Here is a very telling piece by Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews:


Crosses removed from the domes and the tympanum of Yining Church as well as external decorations and crosses, and the Way of the Cross within the church. The same happened at the churches of Manas and Hutubi. The Cross represents “a foreign religious infiltration “. Prayer services forbidden even in private houses under the threat of arrests and re-education. Children and young people forbidden to enter churches. Religious revival frightens the Party.

Rome (AsiaNews) – “It’s a new Cultural Revolution”: this most frequent online comment in reaction to photos of the church of Yining (Xinjiang) stripped of the crosses that stood on the building, of the statues that stood on its tympanum and the decorations and paintings that embellished the facade.

The photo that we published (on the left) shows the color, the momentum, the lightness of the domes and wall decorations, the crosses on the top of the building, before their destruction. The photo on the right shows the “after”. Everything was destroyed by order of the government on February 27 and 28, just a few weeks after the meeting between the Chinese and Vatican delegations, which reportedly resulted in the drafting of a “historic” agreement on the nominations of bishops in the Chinese Catholic Church.

Yining, 700 km west of the capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi, has a Catholic community of a few hundred faithful.

The reference to the Cultural Revolution is a must: in the period from 1966 to 1976 the Red Guards led by Mao and the “band of the Four” implemented the most extreme form of communism by destroying churches, temples, pagodas, prayer books, statues, paintings to annihilate all religion.

But the “Cultural Revolution” of these days is justified by another slogan: “sinicization”. This implies – as Xi Jinping explained three years ago and reaffirmed at the Party Congress last October – “adhering to and developing religious theories with Chinese characteristics”, adhering to the principle of “independence”, adapting religion to socialist society and resisting “religious infiltration from abroad”.

Now the symbol of the cross represents “a religious infiltration from abroad”: from the church of Yining, not only were the two crosses that overlapped the two domes razed to the ground, but also the crosses inside the sacred building have disappeared, including the Way of the Cross and the decorations in the form of a cross have been ripped from the pews.

The iconoclastic fury has also affected other cities. Even before last Christmas, all the crosses from the church of Manas were destroyed and there are rumors that the same happened in the church of Hutubi.

The comparison with the Cultural Revolution does not stop there. Just like then, it is forbidden for believers to pray even in private, in their homes. The police threaten that if they find two people praying together in their home, they will be arrested and forced to undergo re-education.

Under the new regulations on religious activities, proposed last September and implemented last February 1st, worship can only be carried out in church, at the times set by the government. Any other place is considered an “illegal place” and those who break such regulations will be subject to prison, fines, expropriation of the building that houses illegal religious activity. Even private homes are now considered an “illegal place of worship”: in every private house religious conversation or prayer is forbidden, under threat of arrest. The faithful can pray only in church, during Sunday service.

All churches must display a sign at their entrance announcing that the building is “forbidden to minors under the age of 18” must be exposed because children and young people are prohibited from participating in religious rites.

It should be noted that the churches mentioned are not illegal buildings, but officially registered churches. The point is that “sinicization” implies submission to the Chinese Communist Party, which must act as an “active guide” of religions, on which their life or death, every construction and every destruction, depends.

The ruthless and suffocating control of the Party on religions can only be explained by fear. It is now everyone’s experience in China – confirmed by various sociologists – that the country is in the midst of an impressive religious renaissance, to the point that over 80% of the population has some spiritual beliefs and that at least one fifth of the Party members secretly adhere to some form of religion. All this promises more control and persecution in the future.

“I am very sad – a faithful of Urumqi confides to AsiaNews – that the Vatican is compromising with this government. In this way it becomes an accomplice of those who want our annihilation”.




The interview segment of Vatican Insider is my must-not-miss conversation
with a special guest and friend of over 20 years, Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews, a PIME missionary online publication. We talk about the very troubling situation in mainland China and the issues between China and the Vatican.

As I mentioned last week for Part I of our conversation, Father Bernardo has been to China many times and is an expert on China and Church affairs. Though I have nowhere near his expertise in all things China, I did spend three weeks in Beijing as a member of the Holy See delegation to the September 1995 United Nations Conference on Women, and I learned a great deal about China at the time, especially on matters of religious freedom. I learned even more six years later when I spent 12 days in Taiwan, devoted to visiting churches and schools, meeting priests and nuns and the late Cardinal Paul Shan whom I visited in Kaoshiung.

And I have followed all things China ever since!

Our conversation this weekend in Part II of our meeting is of vital importance, especially because we talk about the seemingly great differences in the stories about China that are coming from the Vatican and also from a very respected, retired Chinese cardinal – Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: For VI archives:


300 young people will participate in a first-ever of its kind pre-synodal meeting that will take place from March 19 to 24 in preparation for the XV Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment
By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

An estimated 300 young people from around the world have been chosen to come to Rome in preparation for the XV Synod of Bishops to take place in October 2018. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops explained at a press conference on Friday that for the first time in the history of the Synod of Bishops, a pre-synodal meeting is planned for March 19 to 24.

The young people attending this meeting were chosen by conferences of bishops, religious congregations, and other Vatican dicasteries. They represent young people from various ethnic, and religious backgrounds, walks of life, and lived experiences—including some who have experienced human trafficking.

This meeting is being held to assure that the voice of the very audience the Synod is addressing – young people – will be heard first-hand. The input from this meeting will be presented to Pope Francis on March 25. It will also be included in the Instrumentum laboris that will be used by the Synod Fathers as they focus this theme.

How young people’s voices are being heard

Social media is the primary way that the Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops wishes to hear from young people. Over 221,000 responses to the online questionnaire have already been received. It is now possible to participate in Facebook Groups in various languages by signing up using the link found on the Synod’s website.

Also present at Friday’s press conference were two young people participating in a group organized by the secretariat preparing for the synod. Filippo Passantino underlined the use of social media in order to involve young people in the synod. Referring to the synod’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, he said that “with our advice and our intuition, we offered a younger perspective in order to speak to other young people. The objective of the online presence is to create interactions with our peers throughout the world and to facilitate their participation.”

Stella Marillene Nishimwe, speaking in French, said, “I would (…) like to invite all the young people of the world to participate in this precious moment that the Church offers us to make our voice reach as far as possible.”



At Mass on Tuesday morning in the Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis concelebrated with the Melkite Greek Patriarch of Antioch, calling it a sign of the Apostolic Communion between the Latin- and Eastern-rite Churches within the universal Church.

Pope Francis concelebrated Mass on Tuesday morning with the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch of Antioch, Youssef Absi. Instead of delivering a homily, Pope Francis said a few words about the meaning of the day’s celebration, at which members of the Melkite Greek Synod participated.

“This Mass with our brother, Patriarch Absi,” the Pope said, “confirms our Apostolic Communion: He is the father of a very ancient Church, and he comes to embrace Peter and to say ‘I am in communion with Peter.’” The Holy Father said this was the meaning of the Eucharistic celebration.

He said the Melkite Greek Church is “a rich Church with its own theology within Catholic theology and with its own marvelous liturgy”.

Here are some photos I took of St. Paul’s Melkite Church in Harissa on one of my trips to Lebanon:

The Pope said, “at this moment a large part of the [Melkite] people is crucified, like Jesus.”

He said the Mass was being celebrated for the people of the Melkite Greek Church, “for the people who suffer, and for persecuted Christians in the Middle East, who give up their lives, goods, and property because they are driven out.” Pope Francis said he also offered the Mass for the ministry of “our brother Youssef”.

Following the Mass, Patriarch Absi thanked the Pope for “this beautiful Mass of communion”. He said, “Personally, I am truly moved by your fraternal charity and the solidarity you have shown to our Church.”

Patriarch  Absi promised to keep Pope Francis in his heart and prayers. “I cannot describe the beauty,” the Patriarch said, of “this communion, which unites all the disciples of Christ.” (Vatican news, Vatican Radio, Devin Watkins)


The following editorial from the National Catholic Register is a very thoughtful piece that culls the salient points from the articles the editors quote. “At what price?” asks the title. The answer seems to be that the price is the suffering, even the betrayal, of the faithful Catholics who have remained loyal to Rome and the papacy, even paying very high prices.

EDITORIAL: China’s persecuted Christians deserve hard answers to tough questions, and the Holy See has yet to provide them.

The Editors

How far will the Holy See go to secure an accord with the People’s Republic of China that preserves the Pope’s authority over the appointment of bishops?
Only the general outlines of the ongoing talks between Rome and Beijing have been confirmed. But the optics of a deal that is supposed to lay the groundwork for the unification of China’s 10-12 million Catholics have raised fears that it could actually hamper the Church’s independence and its freedom to speak out in defense of persecuted Christians and others caught in the crosshairs of a Chinese Communist Party that has tightened its grip on the nation.

Indeed, as Catholics wait for more details about the plan to be disclosed — with news reports suggesting that an accord could be signed in late March — Pope Francis’ comments during a private meeting with Cardinal Joseph Zen, retired archbishop of Hong Kong and a vocal critic of the Vatican’s rapprochement with Beijing, raised fresh questions about the negotiations.
According to Cardinal Zen, the Holy Father acknowledged the painful difficulties faced by Church leaders loyal to Rome and said he had warned his envoy that the talks should not “create another Mindszenty case.”

The reference to Cardinal József Mindszenty of Hungary, the towering Church leader who openly challenged totalitarian rule in his country, was a striking choice of words.

Like many bishops in China’s underground Church who have been loyal to Rome, Cardinal Mindszenty endured imprisonment and torture at the hands of the communist regime that controlled Hungary after the Second World War. Later, he lived under voluntary house arrest in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest until agreeing in 1971 to leave his homeland and settle in Vienna.
He remained a beacon of religious resistance to Soviet-era communism, and as Pope Paul VI sought to improve relations with regimes in Eastern Europe, the cardinal became a thorn in his side. In 1973, the Pope stripped him of his title of archbishop of Esztergom, and the see was declared vacant.

The Holy See’s treaties with Eastern Bloc governments “were intended to provide for the sacramental life of the Church by facilitating the appointment of bishops,” explained George Weigel in a harsh assessment of the Vatican’s past efforts to engage totalitarian regimes published in National Review. “The Catholic hierarchy in Hungary became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hungarian Communist Party. In … Czechoslovakia, regime-friendly Catholics became prominent in the Church while the underground Czechoslovak Church of faithful Catholics struggled to survive under conditions exacerbated by what its leaders regarded as misguided Roman appeasement of a bloody-minded regime.”

Entire editorial is here:


Academics, lawyers, human rights activists ask the Holy See to demand greater guarantees of freedom in the appointment of bishops and religious freedom in the country. Xi Jinping scepticism towards China. ” Rushing for a quick achievement, taking a wrong step, can result in total failure”.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – “An irreversible and regrettable mistake “: this is how a group of Catholic personalities in Hong Kong and in the world defines the possible agreement between China and the Holy See on bishops’ nominations, reported by some media as “imminent.” In an open letter addressed to the bishops of the world they ask them to ask the Holy See to stop the agreement and to re-set it with precise guarantees on the pontiff’s freedom to appoint bishops and with guarantees of true religious freedom for Christians and society. Among the signatories are academics, lawyers, human rights activists. Here is the text of the petition sent to AsiaNews, also found on the site / and open to signatures.

An Open Letter to Conferences of Catholic Bishops Across the World Regarding the Possible Agreement Between the Holy See and the Government of the People’s Republic of China

Your Eminence and Most Reverend,

We are a group of Catholics. Recently there has been news reports indicating that the Holy See and the government of the People’s Republic of China will soon reach an agreement over the issue of bishop appointment, as well as recognition of seven illicit “bishops”. We are deeply shocked and disappointed. With our love and allegiance to the Holy Mother Church, we hope you and the bishops conferences would pay attention to such development.

According to the teachings of the Holy Mother Church, bishops are the successors of the Apostles, bearing the duties of leading and tending the flock: “The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” ( Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.”(Catechism, 869) All bishops must therefore be appointed by the Successor of Peter — the Holy Father, the Pope. And they must be men of moral principles and wisdom. The government must play no role in the selection process:

“[T]he right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs properly, peculiarly, and per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority. Therefore, for the purpose of duly protecting the freedom of the church and of promoting more conveniently and efficiently the welfare of the faithful, this holy council desires that in future no more rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be granted to civil authorities.” (Christus Dominus, para. 20)

Yet, the seven illicit “bishops” were not appointed by the Pope, and their moral integrity is questionable. They do not have the trust of the faithful, and have never repented publicly. If they were to be recognized as legitimate, the faithful in Greater China would be plunged into confusion and pain, and schism would be created in the Church in China.

We fully understand that the Holy See is eager to be able to evangelize in China more effectively. However, we are deeply worried that the deal would create damages that cannot be remedied. The Communist Party in China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has repeatedly destroyed crosses and churches, and the Patriotic Association maintains its heavy-handed control over the Church. Religious persecution has never stopped. Xi has also made it clear that the Party will strengthen its control over religions. So there is no possibility that the Church can enjoy more freedom. In addition, the Communist Party has a long history of breaking promises. We are worried that the agreement would not only fail to guarantee the limited freedom desired by the Church, but also damage the Church’s holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity, and deal a blow to the Church’s moral power. The Church would no longer be able to have the trust of people, and “serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God’s family.” (Gaudium et Spes, 40)

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, our beloved Pope Francis writes: “Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness… The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:12-13). The parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.” (224-225) The Spirit of God sometimes does not allow us to proceed. (ref. Act 16:6) Though the force of evil is growing, time belongs to God. By putting our trust in the Lord, the dark night will eventually pass. Rushing for a quick achievement, taking a wrong step, can result in total failure.

Continue reading here:



The interview segment of “Vatican Insider” this weekend is my must-not-miss conversation with a special guest and friend of over 20 years, Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, editor of AsiaNews, a PIME missionary online publication. We talk about the very troubling situation in mainland China and the issues between China and the Vatican.

Father Bernardo has been to China many times and is an expert on China and Church affairs. Though I have nowhere near his expertise in all things China, I did spend 3 weeks in Beijing as a member of the Holy See delegation to the September 1995 United Nations Conference on Women and learned a great deal about China at the time, especially on matters of religious freedom. I learned even more six years later when I spent 12 days in Taiwan, devoted to visiting churches and schools, meeting priests and nuns and the late Cardinal Paul Shan whom I visited in Kaoshiung.

And I have followed all things China ever since!

Our conversation this weekend in Part I of our meeting is of vital importance, especially because we talk about the seemingly great differences in the stories about China that are coming from the Vatican and also from a very respected, retired Chinese cardinal – Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong.

In the United States, you can listen to Vatican Insider (VI) on a Catholic radio station near you (there is a list of U.S. stations at or on channel 130 Sirius-XM satellite radio. Outside the U.S., you can listen to EWTN radio on our website home page by clicking on the right side where you see “LISTEN TO EWTN.” Vatican Insider airs Saturday mornings at 9:00am (ET). On the SKY satellite feed to the UK and parts of Europe, VI airs on audio channel 0147 at 11:30 am CET on Saturdays, and 5:30am and 10pm CET on Sundays. It’s also available on demand on the EWTN app and on the website. CHECK YOUR TIME ZONE. Here’s a link to download VI to your iTunes library: For VI archives:


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:,-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.


The China story continues as you will see below, including an interview with Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Partolin on Vatican-China relations and then a story about a Chinese bishop released after 7 months of being held by Chinese officials. If you want to know what the issues are for the Catholic Church and the Vatican in China this is a short but must-read article.

There was also the weekly general audience today and Pope Francis continued his catechesis on the Mass, highlighting the importance of the Liturgy of the Word.


During his catechesis at the weekly general audience, Pope Francis told those present that Christians need to be constantly open to and challenged by the Word of God. By Linda Bordoni (for Vaticannews)

Pope Francis invited the faithful to place themselves in silent openness to God’s saving message as it resounds in the ecclesial assembly and is a fundamental aspect of God’s constant dialogue with his people.

The Pope’s words came on Wednesday during the general audience as he continued his ongoing catechesis dedicated to the Eucharist with a reflection on the Liturgy of the Word.

During Mass, he said, God speaks to his people through the Liturgy of the Word, and the same Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred Scriptures opens our minds and hearts to that living word.

“That’s why,” he explained, “personal choices regarding the readings are not acceptable.” He invited priests to use the readings listed in the Church’s Lectionary, and not replace them by reading from other sources – such as newspaper articles. This is something, he said, that favours ecclesial communion.“God’s Word is God’s Word! We can read the newspaper later on. In Church we read God’s Word. It is the Lord speaking to us.”

If you chat you cannot be listening to the Word of God

The Pope also reflected on the behavior of Church-goers pointing out that if one chats during Mass, one doesn’t hear God’s Word. He urged them to open their hearts in silence to be able to receive His message and then put its indications into practice.

“We need to listen! Since we do not live ‘by bread alone’, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God, we need to be constantly open to, and challenged by, that word, in our lives as individuals and in our life as a Church. This is why we talk about the Liturgy of the Word as ‘the table of God’s Word’ that the Lord sets to nourish our spiritual life.”

Active participation

The Responsorial Psalm, Francis said, favors God’s dialogue with his people as it sets the meditative mood for the next reading and he invited the faithful to participate “at least in the response”. The Liturgical proclamation, he added, expresses and favors ecclesial communion and accompanies believers in their journey of faith.

We need good readers

Francis also reflected on the need for good readers and psalmists, whom, he said, must practice: “this favors an atmosphere of receptive silence” he said. “We know that the Lord’s Word is an indispensable aid to avoid getting lost: it lights up our path. …. How could we undertake our earthly pilgrimage, with all of its burdens and challenges without being regularly nourished and enlightened by God’s Word that resounds in the Liturgy?”
In conclusion the Pope noted that it is not enough to listen only with ears, but with open hearts so that the Word can make its way inside us and make itself evident in our hands “as we carry out good works”.


Cardinal Parolin, “Why we are in dialogue with China”

An interview with the Secretary of State who responds to the accusations made against the Holy See regarding the ongoing contacts, “We trust that the Chinese faithful, thanks to their spirit of faith, will know how to recognize that our action is animated by trust in the Lord and does not answer to worldly logic”

(From a La Stampa interview) – Several signals (including opaque operations, actual political manipulations, and even sabotage) indicate that important developments may occur in contacts between the Holy See and the Government of the People’s Republic of China. The time is right to listen to an authoritative word, which will help to grasp what the Pope and the Holy See really have at heart. And with our Chinese brothers and sisters in mind, help to dispel suspicions and artificial fumes, to look at the ecclesial heart of the whole question, outside politicized narratives. For this reason, Vatican Insider interviewed Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of His Holiness.

Eminence, what can you tell us about the dialogue between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China?
“As it is well known, with the advent of “New China”, there were, for the life of the Church in that great country, moments of serious contrasts and severe suffering. Since the eighties, however, contacts have been established between representatives of the Holy See and of People’s China, who have known different seasons and alternating events. The Holy See has always maintained a pastoral approach, trying to overcome the contrasts and making itself available for a respectful and constructive dialogue with the civil authorities. Pope Benedict XVI well represented the spirit of this dialogue in his 2007 Letter to Chinese Catholics, “the solution to existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities ” (n. 4). In Pope Francis’ pontificate, the ongoing negotiations move exactly along these lines: constructive openness to dialogue and fidelity to the genuine Tradition of the Church”.

What are the concrete expectations of the Holy See from this dialogue?
“First of all, I would like to make a premise: in China, perhaps more than elsewhere, Catholics have been able to preserve, despite the many difficulties and sufferings, the authentic deposit of faith, keeping firmly the bond of hierarchical communion between the Bishops and the Successor of Peter, as a visible guarantee of faith itself. In fact, communion between the Bishop of Rome and all Catholic Bishops touches the heart of the Church’s unity: it is not a private matter between the Pope and the Chinese Bishops or between the Apostolic See and civil authorities. Having said that, the main purpose of the Holy See in the ongoing dialogue is precisely that of safeguarding communion within the Church, in the wake of genuine Tradition and constant ecclesiastical discipline. You see, in China there are not two Churches, but two communities of faithful called to follow a gradual path of reconciliation towards unity. It is not, therefore, a matter of maintaining a perennial conflict between opposing principles and structures, but of finding realistic pastoral solutions that allow Catholics to live their faith and to continue together the work of evangelization in the specific Chinese context”.



He had been in the hands of the police for seven months. Pressure exerted to make him join the Patriotic Association (Click here for video:

Wenzhou (AsiaNews) – Msgr. Peter Shao Zhumin, bishop of Wenzhou (Zhejiang), recognized by the Holy See but not by the government, has returned to his diocese. On January 27th he was welcomed by the faithful with a celebration, prayers and a song specially composed for his return. The song praises him as “our dear bishop who leads us to Christ. Our bishop is the good shepherd … your name is always in our hearts “. (AsiaNews photo)

On May 18 he was taken from his diocese by public security forces and members of the Religious Affairs Bureau and held in Xining (Qinghai), 2500 km from Wenzhou, still under police escort. As of January 4 he is free to move and is no longer escorted by security personnel. Sources from the diocese had told AsiaNews that he would stop in Beijing at the hospital to be treated following an ear operation.

In all these months, police exerted psychological pressure on him to make him join the Patriotic Association, the Party body that wants a Church independent of the Holy See. Faced with his refusal, in early December, representatives of religious affairs asked him to sign a document with the four conditions for receiving government recognition. They include his support for the principle of an independent Church; support for self-nomination and self-ordination [of the bishops]; concelebration with an illegitimate bishop, not recognized by the Vatican; submission to the new religious regulations that will be launched next February. But again Msgr. Shao refused.

For decades the Catholic community of Wenzhou – about 130,000 faithful – has been divided between official and non-official communities: more than 80 thousand belong to the unofficial community. There are 70 priests, divided equally between the two communities. Msgr Shao, 54, despite being a member of the underground Church, is also appreciated by the official community.
Following the bishop’s abduction, the German ambassador to Beijing Michael Clauss spoke up for his release. Even the Holy See had expressed concern over its fate.


Following today’s statements from the Holy See Press Office, I offer two stories – one from Sunday and the second from Monday’s press conference on a new papal document about pontifical universities – that I did not present in yesterday’s column due to the breaking news about and from China.

In the meantime, an update regarding the photos I published last Thursday that showed “sky writing” above the Vatican – planes whose chemtrails created large Xs in the sky. The Vatican gendarmerie wrote that, while what I saw was not indeed dangerous or strange, they wanted to thank me for my email in this regard and for being alert to what they described as “the wakes of condensation from the planes” that could have (and did) cause concern for some people. I was told that what appeared to be the optical illusion of planes flying right over Vatican City (which IS a no-fly zone) was caused by the extreme altitude of the planes, making it seem they were directly over the Vatican. Obviously, the Vatican has wonderful systems in place that can monitor people, movements and objects.


1. From Holy See Press Office this afternoon (my translation from the Italian):
“As a follow up to some information that recently arrived regarding the case of Bishop Juan de la Cruz of Osorno, Chile, the Holy Father has decided that Bishop Charles J. Scicluna, archbishop of Malta and president of the College that examines appeals (in matters of delicta graviora) in the Ordinary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, will go to Chile to listen to those who have expressed the desire to present elements in their possession.”

2. Statement from Holy See Press Office Director Greg Burke:
“With reference to widespread news on a presumed difference of thought and action between the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Roman Curia on issues relating to China, I am able to state the following:

“The Pope is in constant contact with his collaborators, in particular in the Secretariat of State, on Chinese issues, and is informed by them faithfully and in detail on the situation of the Catholic Church in China and on the steps in the dialogue in progress between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, which he follows with special attention. It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy”.


(Vatican News) On Sunday afternoon Pope Francis paid a visit to the basilica of Santa Sofia, home to Rome’s Greek-Catholic Community of Ukrainians, to thank the community that lives in Rome and to pray at the tomb of Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Czmil. (Vatican photo)

The Pope exchanged greetings with the Major Archbishop of Kiev, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, and in his address recalled the great models of Cardinal Josyp Slipyi, Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Stepan Czmil, and Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, former Major Archbishop of the Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine.

Francis also paid a visit to the crypt to pray at the tomb of Salesian Ukrainian Bishop Czmil. Describing the bishop as “a person who has done me so much good,” the Pope explained that when he was a boy in Argentina, the bishop taught him, “to serve at Mass, to read your alphabet. From him I learned the beauty of your liturgy, from its stories the living testimony of how much faith has been tried and forged in the midst of the terrible atheistic persecutions of the last century.”

In his address, Pope Francis noted the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the suffering of the people there and said, “I am here today to tell you all that I am close to you: close with my heart, with my prayers, and when I celebrate Mass.” He then prayed that the weapons of war would be silenced.

The Holy Father also noted the numerous Ukrainian women of great faith, courage and charity, telling them, “you are precious and you bring to many Italian families the proclamation of God.”


On Monday, the Vatican released the text of Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Constitution Veritatis gaudium (The Joy of Truth), on Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties.

By Christopher Wells (Vatican News)

Pope Francis has issued a new Apostolic Constitution, Veritatis gaudium, revising the norms governing Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties – that is, institutions granting pontifical degrees in fields such as theology, philosophy, and canon law, as well as numerous other disciplines.

Updating Sapientia christiana

The new document updates the previous Apostolic Constitution, Sapientia christiana, issued in 1979 in the wake of the Second Vatican Council. Since its promulgation, Sapientia christiana has been amended three times, and other normative texts have been published, including the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.

In addition, the Holy See has entered into various agreements concerning higher education and the awarding of academic degrees. The work of producing a new Apostolic Constitution that takes account of these changes was entrusted by Pope Francis to the Congregation for Catholic Education.

In a press conference introducing Veritatis gaudium, the prefect of the congregation, Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, said the Holy Father had encouraged their work in an address on 13 February 2014: “The 50th anniversary of the Conciliar Declaration [Gravissimum Educationis], the 25th anniversary of Ex corde Ecclesiae and the updating of Sapientia christiana, lead us to reflect seriously on the many formational institutions around the world and on their duty to be an expression of a living presence of the Gospel in the field of education, of science and of culture.”

Cardinal Versaldi said Pope Francis made the decision to issue a new Apostolic Constitution after being presented with the revision of Sapientia christiana. The new Constitution, he said, indicates the meaning and the basic criteria for a renewal and a revival of ecclesiastical studies, especially in light of the “missionary” orientation of the Church, as described in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium.

What’s new

Following Cardinal Versaldi’s presentation at the press conference, the secretary of the congregation, Archbishop Angelo Vincenzo Zani highlighted some of the most important innovations in the Veritatis gaudium. In particular, he mentioned the significance of bringing all ecclesiastical universities and faculties into line with the Holy See’s Agency for the Evaluation and Promotion of Quality in Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties (AVEPRO). Archbishop Zani also noted the guidelines governing relations between ecclesiastical academic institutions and their civil counterparts.

Notably, Archishop Zani said Veritatis gaudium makes provisions for “distance learning,” the possibilities for which have increased significantly since the publication of Sapientia christiana. The new Constitution also includes regulations concerning migrants and refugees, requiring ecclesiastical institutions to adopt procedures to provide for those who may not possess the required documentation for admittance.

The full text of the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis gaudium can be found on the Vatican website.


An excellent summary of Veritatis gaudium was done by my EWTN colleague, Elise Harris:

Vatican City, Jan 29, 2018 / 06:40 am (CNA/EWTN News).- On Monday Pope Francis released a new apostolic constitution calling for a “radical” reform to the nature and curriculum of ecclesiastical universities and institutions.

“The primary need today is for the whole People of God to be ready to embark upon a new stage of Spirit-filled evangelization,” the Pope said in the document, “Vertatis Gaudium.”

This new stage of evangelization, he said, “calls for a resolute process of discernment, purification and reform. In this process, a fitting renewal of the system of ecclesiastical studies plays a strategic role.”

Signed Dec. 8, 2017, and published Jan. 29, 2018, the 87-page document is Francis’ is titled “Veritatis Gaudium,” meaning “the joy of truth.”

The document deals specifically with ecclesiastical universities and faculties, which, differing from regular Catholic universities, offer Vatican-approved degrees required to teach in seminaries or at pontifical universities.

It consists of two parts dedicated to general norms and specific norms, and also contains an appendix and norms of application. The document is meant to “update” previous norms, and abrogates any prior rules which contradict the new ones laid out by Pope Francis in Veritatis Gaudium.

The document abrogates any contrary norms established by John Paul II’s 1979 Apostolic Constitution “Sapientia Christiana,” issued after a careful study of the Second Vatican Council’s decree “Optatam Totius” on ecclesiastical studies. However, John Paul II’s 1990 Apostolic Constitution “Ex corde Ecclesiae” is not impacted , as it deals specifically with Catholic colleges and universities, rather than ecclesiastical academic entities.


In the foreword for his new constitution, Pope Francis, who has often spoken of the importance of education, said that while offering a great contribution to the Church’s life and mission, Sapientia Christiana “urgently needs to be brought up to date.”

“While remaining fully valid in its prophetic vision and its clarity of expression, the constitution ought to include the norms and dispositions issued since its promulgation, and to take into account developments in the area of academic studies in these past decades,” he said.

“There is also a need to acknowledge the changed social-cultural context worldwide and to implement initiatives on the international level to which the Holy See has adhered.”

Francis noted that the world is currently living not only a time of change, but it is also experiencing “a true epochal shift, marked by a wide-ranging anthropological and environmental crisis,” such as natural, social and financial disasters which are swiftly reaching “a breaking point.”

This reality, he said, requires “changing the models of global development and redefining our notion of progress.” However, a great problem in doing this is the fact that “we still lack the culture necessary to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths.”

Because of this, he said that on the cultural level as well as that of academic training and scientific study, “a radical paradigm shift” and “a bold cultural revolution” are needed which involve a worldwide network of ecclesiastical universities and faculties which are capable of promoting the Gospel and Church Tradition, but which are also “ever open to new situations and ideas.”

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