Since midnight on September 1, I have been receiving messages, reports, stories and analyses from friends at home and abroad, excited about Pope Francis’s naming of Archbishop Pietro Parolin as the new Vatican Secretary of State.
My first reaction too was positive: a new pope and a new secretary of state, a new Chinese leader, a new collective leadership; perhaps this is the beginning of a new era for the two sides.
I still remember that, within a few hours of each other on March 14, 2013, came the election of Pope Francis in the Vatican and President Xi Jinping in China. That coincidence, and the two leaders’ many similarities, have drawn attention and appreciation worldwide.
Both leaders are seen as simple, practical and frugal, with a concern for the marginalized and vulnerable. Pope Francis’ humility in words and deeds has been recognized and highly praised by many Chinese. So there is high hope in both East and West for an improvement in Sino-Vatican relations.
The pope had not announced many personnel changes, but this week the Vatican revealed some exciting news: Archbishop Parolin will be Vatican secretary of state.
The archbishop is familiar with Chinese affairs and is regarded as a friend by the Chinese government. As an assistant to the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, he handled the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Asian countries, particularly Vietnam and China, from 2002 to 2009. In this capacity, his wisdom, faith and humility were recognized.
With his diplomatic work experience enriched in Africa and Latin America, the secretary will now be even more adroit in his dealings. Thanks must go to the Pope Emeritus for his insight in nurturing and training this energetic new assistant and leader for the Church.
Hopefully the new secretary of state, who has shown himself highly able to ‘read’ China, its national conditions, culture and customs, will reaffirm his friendship with the Chinese and guide the Vatican team in reopening dialogue with their government.
Eliminating the misunderstanding and hurt from the past, establishing a mutual, beneficial partnership based on mutual trust, and ultimately bringing a meeting of the two leaders as soon as possible; these will all be among his objectives.
Of course, we cannot ignore the intricate problems between China and the Vatican accumulated over the past 50 years; nor can we believe that everything will be resolved just because of this new appointment.
The normalization of the Sino-Vatican relationship is a bilateral issue that requires joint efforts and wisdom from both sides. “How can the diplomatic relation be built if the two sides still see each other from the old perspectives?” is a fair comment I got from a mainland Catholic lately.
We hope all parties can get rid of the old burdens, come out of the deadlock and work together in harmony. Surely, diplomatic dialogue, negotiation and mutually acceptable compromise is the way to achieve awareness, understanding, acceptance and ultimately a ‘win-win’ ending.
Will the coincidental election of the new pope, the new chairman and the new collective leadership on both sides truly be the beginning of a new era? People are watching.
Ye Sheng is a Catholic in mainland China
India: I was too — initially.