ope Francis now has quite a few travel options to choose from after recently being invited to visit both China and Taiwan amid speculation that the Vatican is planning to switch its allegiance from one side of the strait to the other.
The historic China invite came from a pair of Catholic bishops from mainland China who were allowed to attend this month’s synod — a meeting in the Vatican of bishops from around the world — a movethat served as the first real, concrete sign of a thawing in relations between the Holy See and Beijing.
Diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican have been severed now for more than 70 years with the two sides arguing over how bishops should be appointed in the country. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chinese Catholics have been split into two groups: one that attends churches recognized by the state-supported “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” which names its own bishops and the other that goes to “underground churches” which recognize the pope and his authority over naming bishops.
Last month, China and the Vatican finally came to a provisional agreement on this extremely thorny issue, effectively allowing the Pope veto power in the appointment of bishops put forward by the Chinese government.
As part of the agreement, Pope Francis also agreed to recognize the legitimacy of bishops like Joseph Guo Jincai, who had been appointed in 2010 by the Patriotic Catholic Association without the pope’s consent, resulting in his excommunication. Guo, the association’s vice president, was one of the bishops who personally invited the pope to visit China.
“While we were here, we invited Pope Francis to come to China,” Guo toldAvvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, adding that he didn’t know when a trip could take place but that he was praying for it to happen.
“Our presence here was considered impossible but it became possible,” he said.
Also recently in the Vatican was Taiwan’s Vice-President Chen Chien-jen who met with Pope Francis on Sunday and invited him to visit Taiwan, while also trying to play down concerns about last month’s China-Vatican deal.
Though the Vatican has insisted that the deal is pastoral not political, some see it as the prelude to the Vatican finally reestablishing relations with Beijing, a move which would see Taiwan lose its last ally in Europe. Already this year, Beijing has snatched away three of Taiwan’s friends; only 17 remain.
After receiving Chen’s invite, Pope Francis is reported to have smiled and said that he will pray for Taiwan, giving no indication of a possible travel date. No pope has ever visited Taiwan, not even the extremely well-traveled John Paul II.
Vice President Chen Chien-jen has conveyed to me @Pontifex’s best wishes & prayers for #Taiwan. I want to extend my heartfelt greetings to @Pontifex from Taiwan & my best wishes to the Holy See & Catholic communities around the world. pic.twitter.com/gjyCv4Byb6
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) October 15, 2018
Pope Francis is expected to travel to Japan next year. On Thursday, he will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who will be carrying with him an invitation to visit Pyongyang from Kim Jong-un. The pope is said to be ready to accept Kim’s invite.