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Harmonizing differences

· ​Upon arriving in Vilnius the Pope exhorts Lithuania to take the path of openness and understanding, and in Peking a Provisional accord is signed between China and the Holy See on the appointment of bishops ·

On Saturday morning, 22 September, a Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of Bishops was signed. The historic step, the result of a “long process of careful negotiation” — as stated in the communiqué published contemporaneously in the Vatican and in the Chinese capital — took place during the same hours in which Pope Francis was beginning his visit in the Baltic countries. And precisely from Lithuania, the first of the three destinations of his visit, which will also include Latvia and Estonia, the Pontiff made an important appeal: to overcome the divisions and confrontations of the past in order to face the present with courage and to take the path of cooperation and solidarity. “You Lithuanians” — he said in his address to political authorities and representatives of civil society at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius — “have a word of your own to contribute: ‘welcoming differences’. Through dialogue, openness and understanding, you can become a bridge between Eastern and Western Europe”.

The agreement signed in Peking by Msgr Antoine Camilleri, Undersecretary for Relations with States, and Mr Wang Chao, China’s Deputy Minister of Affairs — who led the two Delegations present at the meeting — has an exquisitely religious and pastoral significance, as evidenced in a declaration by Greg Burke, Director of the Holy See Press Office. Indeed, it addresses an issue of great relevance for the life of the Church, and aims to create the conditions for expanding the Catholic community’s areas of freedom and to broaden the horizons of cooperation with the country’s authorities.

For this reason too, the Provisional Agreement — which provides for an evaluation period as well as “periodic reviews of its application” — coincides with the Pope’s decision to readmit to full communion eight Chinese Bishops who had been ordained without pontifical mandate, allowing for “the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics”, and with the decision to constitute the new Diocese of Chengde in continental China, with the wish “to promote the pastoral care of the Lord’s flock and to attend with greater efficacy to its spiritual good”.

In a statement, noting the “great importance” and the “objective” of the accord, Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin emphasized the need to “overcome past misunderstandings” and to be dedicated “to the mission of announcing the Gospel”, and also “to contribute to the wellbeing and to the spiritual and material prosperity and harmony of the country, of every person and of the world as a whole”.

In this context, according to the Cardinal, the Provisional Agreement also has an exemplary value of promoting “a horizon of peace” at a time in which we are experiencing “so many tensions at international level”. In any case, it is above all “an instrument” to favour a process of collaboration, unity and trust which engages everyone and favours an authentic spirit of reconciliation in the Asian country, where today, the Cardinal observed, “for the first time all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome”.

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