Asia Times interview with Pope Francis broke the ice

BEIJING–China Friday officially acknowledged a thaw in bilateral ties with the Vatican in an semi-official government newspaper. Beijing further opened the possibility of a papal visit to China in the wake of Asia Times’ historic interview with Pope Francis in late January.

Francesco Sisci (left) interviews Pope Francis at the Vatican with papal staffers
Francesco Sisci (left) interviews Pope Francis at the Vatican with papal staffers

The English-language edition of Global Times carried a long front page article entitled, “Under Pope Francis and President Xi, hopes rise for a thaw in ties.” The newspaper, as part of its coverage, interviewed Theodore McCarrick, an American cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, and Francesco Sisci, the Asia Times columnist and Renmin University senior research associate who conducted his 1-hour interview with the Pope in Vatican City on Jan. 28. McCarrick served as Archbishop of Washington (D.C.) from 2001 to 2006 and was elevated to cardinal in 2001.

The Pope, in his exclusive interview with Asia Times, urged the world “not to fear China’s rise.” The pontiff also noted that the Chinese people are in a positive moment and delivered a message of hope, peace and reconciliation as an alternative to war, hot or cold. Francis also sent Chinese New Year’s greetings to the Chinese people and President Xi Jinping, the first extended by a Pope to a Chinese leader for the Lunar New Year in 2,000 years.

The Global Times quoted Sisci as saying that “as the Pope is eager to visit China, Beijing should seize this opportunity to extend an invitation to him.” It also quoted Cardinal McCarrick as saying that China has forgone the old Maoist attitude of hostility to religion.

Global Times noted that differences remain between China and the Vatican. But it also stressed the positive role played in the recent bilateral dialogue by Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

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Francesco Sisci is an Italian sinologist, author and columnist who lives and works in Beijing. He works for the Catholic research center

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