On Monday, Pope Francis emphasized the ongoing and respectful relationship between the Vatican and China. Speaking to journalists during his return flight from Mongolia, the pope expressed his admiration for the Chinese people, stating, “The relationship with China is one of deep respect. I hold the Chinese people in high regard.”
When questioned about the Beijing government’s decision to prevent Chinese bishops from attending his Mongolia visit, the pope pointed to the open channels between China and the Vatican. He mentioned a longstanding commission, borne out of a 2018 agreement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), focused on appointing bishops.
Highlighting the goodwill gestures from China, Francis noted the frequent invitations extended to Catholic priests and intellectuals to teach courses in Chinese universities. “To foster mutual understanding, it’s essential to recognize that the Church respects Chinese culture and values. We must dispel the notion that the Church is merely a puppet of an external power,” he explained.
The pope lauded the ongoing efforts of the Commission, led by Cardinal Parolin, acknowledging the progress in relations with China. “The Commission has charted a harmonious course. I have immense respect for the Chinese people,” he said.
However, Pope Francis’s approach towards China has been under scrutiny. Critics point to the pope’s reluctance in addressing the alleged human rights violations in China, particularly those concerning the Uyghur Muslims.
In a 2020 statement, U.S. bishops highlighted continued persecutions despite the Vatican’s interim agreement with China. They outlined instances of underground churches being shut down, clergy arrests, destruction of religious symbols, and limitations imposed on religious instruction for minors.
The situation of the Uyghurs, primarily in China’s Xinjiang region, remains dire. As stated on the bishops’ website, estimates suggest that over a million Uyghurs are held in facilities labeled ‘re-education’ camps by the Chinese, which many argue are detention centers. Evidence presented by human rights organizations points towards various abuses like torture, forced labor, and extreme surveillance measures imposed on the Uyghur community.