News & Commentary

At Mass in Mongolia, pope sends ‘warm greetings’ to neighboring China 

ULAANBAATAR, Mongolia (CNSA) — While China allowed Pope Francis’ plane to cross its airspace on the way to Mongolia, an office of the Chinese Communist Party prevented any Catholic bishops or priests in the mainland from traveling there to see the pope.

But a retired cardinal and the future cardinal of Hong Kong were at papal events throughout the pope’s Sept. 1-4 stay in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital.

At the end of Mass Sept. 3 in the Steppe Arena, Pope Francis called retired Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong and Cardinal-designate Stephen Chow Sau-Yan of Hong Kong up to him.

Taking them by the hands, he told the crowd: “These two brother bishops — the emeritus of Hong Kong and the current bishop of Hong Kong — I want to take the opportunity of their presence to send a warm greeting to the noble Chinese people.”

The pope said he wanted to wish the best to the entire Chinese nation, “and to Chinese Catholics, I ask you to be good Christians and good citizens.”

While bishops and priests from the mainland were not permitted to travel to Mongolia, several small groups of lay Catholics from China did manage to cross the border to see the pope.

As Pope Francis rode around the arena in a golf cart before Mass, a few of them held up a large Chinese flag. The pope stopped and waved to them.

Flying over China on the way to Mongolia early Sept. 1, the pope sent a telegram to Chinese President Xi Jinping, offering his good wishes and assuring him of his “prayers for the well-being of the nation.”

The Vatican and China have had a rocky relationship for decades, and tensions have continued even since Pope Francis and Chinese leaders first signed an agreement in 2018 on the naming of bishops for Chinese dioceses.

Researchers estimate China has about 12 million Catholics, who are split between those whose leaders have joined the patriotic association and those who refuse to do so. The U.S. State Department and a variety of human rights organizations continue to report excessive restrictions and even persecution of religious believers in China, including Catholics.

By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service