ASIA CHINA - Cardinal Zuppi in Beijing: Previous visits by cardinals to the People's Republic of China

Wednesday, 13 September 2023

by Marta Zhao

Beijing (Agenzia Fides) - The visit of Cardinal Matteo Zuppi to Beijing, sent on a mission on the official mandate of Pope Francis to try and help find ways of peace in the face of the ongoing war in Ukraine. The Italian cardinal is thus extending the series of trips and meetings that members of the College of Cardinals have undertaken in the People's Republic of China in recent decades. They were visits of different nature and significance, taking place at different stages of the long and complex history of relations between the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Church and the Holy See.

Cardinals Etchegaray and König, as “pioneers”

French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a friend of the Chinese people and long-time President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace during the Pontificate of John Paul II (who often entrusted him with important missions in regions of the world marked by crises and conflicts), was the first Cardinal to visit the People's Republic of China after Beijing had expelled Nuncio Antonio Riberi, in 1951 and severed relations with the Holy See. Cardinal Etchegaray first visited China from February 26 to March 14, 1980. This first visit was followed by other trips by Etchegaray to China in 1996, 2000, 2003.

Immediately after Cardinal Etchegaray, also in 1980, Austrian Cardinal Franz König, at that time Archbishop of Vienna, and President of the Secretariat for Dialogue with Non-Believers, the Vatican body created at the time to dialogue with atheists and representatives of cultural and political organizations of Marxist inspiration, was also received in communist China. Cardinal König's official visit, organized on the basis of a verbal invitation from the Chinese ambassador in Vienna, lasted two weeks. The Cardinal left for Beijing on March 9, 1980. During his visit there was no official reference to his position as head of a Vatican department, much less to appointments or "mandates" from the Pope to the Archbishop of Vienna. Cardinal König later reported in his publication article "My Trip to China" that his intention was to learn more about the state of the religious communities and especially the Catholics in China, who had just left the period of the Cultural Revolution behind them. "When I landed in Beijing on the evening of March 10th", said the Austrian Cardinal, "I was welcomed at the airport by representatives of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (…). I was warmly welcomed as their guest. In conversation with representatives of this group, I learned that many people from abroad are already on the program of expected visitors". During the visit, in addition to visiting monuments and historical sites (including the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Monument to Sun Yat Sen), Cardinal King was also able to meet with leading representatives of religious associations of Buddhists, Muslims and Protestant Christians. During the first days of the visit, the Cardinal also met the Bishop of Beijing Michele Fu Tieshan,who was ordained in 1979 without the approval of the Holy See, at various receptions. In Nanjing, the Cardinal who had travelled from Vienna, was able to take part in a Latin Mass, but was unable to concelebrate it.

Cardinal Sin's journey of joy and hope.

The trip to China by Filipino Cardinal Jaime Sin, Archbishop of Manila (who was a point of reference for 80 million Filipino Catholics for nearly 30 years and played an important role in the country's turbulent political period, marked by the deposition of Ferdinand Marcos) is also remembered, because thanks to his visit, the Filipino cardinal was able to bring reassuring news to the Pope about the condition of the Archbishop of Shanghai, Ignatius Sin, who had been deprived of his freedom for many years. The Archbishop of Shanghai, Ignatius Gong Pinmei, had already been appointed cardinal "in pectore" by John Paul II in 1979. Cardinal Sin visited China in 1985 and reported, among other things, how Archbishop Ignatius Gong, at a meeting with him under strict control of the apparatus, managed to make a public declaration of loyalty to the Pope before the communist officials: during an official dinner, Gong Pinmeii had asked the bishop of Shanghai to pay homage to the guest from Manila and, before this request, Gong had sung a Latin hymn proclaiming his loyalty and devotion to the Successor of Peter.
In 1987, during a new visit to Beijing, Cardinal Sin was received by the then Chinese Prime Minister, Zhao Ziyang. In January 1995, Cardinal Sin invited young Chinese Catholics to Manila to participate in World Youth Day with the Pope. It was the first time that Catholics from the People's Republic of China were allowed by political authorities to participate in a meeting led by the Bishop From Rome.

The pastoral journeys of Cardinal Danneels

Cardinal Godfried Danneels, Archbishop of Malines-Brussels and Primate of the Church of Belgium, also made several trips to the People's Republic of China. These visits helped him to have a clear and passionate outlook on the reality of Chinese Catholicism and on the most appropriate choices to make to help the Church of China walk in the faith of the Apostles through tribulations. During his travels, Cardinal Danneels visited the diocese of Beijing and the National Seminary, but also Shanghai, Xi'An, and the communities of Hebei, Liaoning and Chengde (raised to the rank of diocese by Pope Francis on September 22, 2018, as part of the signing of the China-Holy See provisional Agreement on the appointments of Chinese Bishops). In 2005, Cardinal Danneels was invited to China by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). On this occasion, the Primate of the Belgian Church was also received by Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Hui Liangyu in Zhong Nanhai, the seat of the Chinese government, and held talks with Ye Xiaowen, Director of SARA. Furthermore, Niu Maosheng, a member of the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, held a reception in honor of the Cardinal, attended by representatives of the five religious communities officially recognized in the People's Republic of China. During his visit to the National Seminary in Beijing, Cardinal Danneels gave a well-attended conference on the Catholic priesthood. His trip, which began on March 29, was abruptly interrupted due to the deterioration of John Paul II's health. Cardinal Danneels returned to Europe, renounced the visits to Catholic communities which were to take him to Xi'An and Shanghai, and returned to Europe on April 2, the day of the death of John Paul II. After this trip, he declared in an interview with 30Giorni magazine: "I had the impression that many Chinese political leaders want to normalize relations with the Holy See. The problem cannot be the unification of the bishops with the Roman Apostolic See. It must be explained that the bond between the Pope and the bishops is not of a political nature. It is a communion of faith and charity, which cannot be interpreted as political interference in the internal affairs of the country".

The many visits of Theodore McCarrick

Over a period of more than 20 years, former Cardinal and former Archbishop of Washington Theodore McCarrick visited China at least nine times and also stayed at the Beijing Seminary. The series of his trips to China had already begun before his appointment as cardinal and ended in 2016. On several occasions, his trips were sponsored by "The Chinese-American friendship Association".
In 1998, when McCarrick was Archbishop of Newark, he also had the opportunity to meet with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who received him and other American clergy in Beijing to discuss religious freedom. As a cardinal, McCarrick was also welcomed by prominent political figures, such as Jia Qinglin, a member of the Chinese government, whom he met in 2005. When he visited China - he himself said in an interview with the magazine - "I talk to everyone. I believe that we Catholics, we Catholic bishops have to enter into dialogue with everyone". However, McCarrick never traveled to China on behalf of the Holy See. Even during the 1998 trip marked by the meeting with Jiang Zemin, the delegation of clergy who left for China had been selected not by the Holy See, but by the US State Department. In February 2019, Theodore McCarrick was removed from the clergy after the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty of offenses he committed as a priest, including "violations of the sixth commandment with minors and adults, with the aggravating circumstance of abuse of power".

The visit of Cardinal Romeo

The visit of Italian Cardinal Paolo Romeo to China took place in mid-November 2011. It lasted five days and was limited to the city of Beijing.

The journey of Cardinal Sepe

Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples from 2001 to 2006 and Archbishop emeritus of Naples, visited the People's Republic of China in October 2010, together with some members of the Community of Sant'Egidio. Cardinal Sepe previously visited Hong Kong and Taiwan during his term as Prefect. Professor Ren Yanli of the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, who died on June 30th, pointed out in a speech that Cardinal Sepe's trip to China in October 2010 was primarily intended to "promote religious and cultural exchange between China and Italy, especially with Naples".
During his trip to China, Cardinal Sepe was also received by Wang Zuoan, Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). On October 26, the Cardinal participated in a seminar organized by the Development Research Center of the State Council. During the meeting with seven Chinese scholars, the symposium focused on the contribution that religious communities can make to the growth of a harmonious society. Cardinal Sepe and his companions then visited the tomb of the great Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), and visited the Cathedral dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, which Father Ricci himself had built. In the Cathedral, Cardinal Sepe prayed together, reciting the Our Father in Latin. Cardinal Sepe then went to Shanghai to participate in the events organized at the Italian pavilion of the World Expo, in the presence of the President of the then Italian Republic, Giorgio Napolitano. (Agenzia Fides, 13/9/2023)