Pope Francis made his strongest gesture yet to reach out to China on Sunday, saying he wants to improve relations and insisting that the Catholic Church isn’t coming in as a “conqueror” but is rather a partner in dialogue.
“I’m not talking here only about a political dialogue, but about a fraternal dialogue. These Christians aren’t coming as conquerors, they aren’t trying to take away our identity.” He said the important thing was to “walk together.”
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope’s remarks were “obviously a sign of goodwill for dialogue” with China as well as the other countries in Asia with which the Vatican doesn’t have diplomatic relations, amongst them North Korea.
China cut relations with the Vatican in 1951, after the Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope’s authority. China persecuted the church for years until restoring a degree of religious freedom and freeing imprisoned priests in the late 1970s. The Vatican under then-Pope Benedict XVI sought to improve ties by seeking to unify the state-sanctioned church with the underground church still loyal to Rome.
The church in North Korea is under tight government control and is not recognized by the Vatican. Organizers of the papal trip had invited a delegation from the North to attend a Mass for peace and reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula, but Pyongyang authorities declined the invitation.
During a Friday mass, diverging from prepared text, the Pope led the attendees in a silent prayer for North Koreans and the reunification of the two Koreas. “You are brothers who speak the same language. … Think of your brothers in the North. They speak the same language and when, in a family, the same language is spoken, there is a human hope,” he said.