A Republic of China (Taiwan) flag outside the Taiwanese Embassy to the Holy See. The embassy is in Rome, which has no diplomatic ties with Taipei. Photo: Astrotrain/WikiMedia

Taiwanese Vice-President Chen Chien-jen is scheduled to visit the Vatican next month to attend the canonization of six beatified individuals, or “blesseds,” a source said.

The report on the planned visit by the Taipei-based Liberty Times came out at about the same time the Vatican and China signed a tentative deal on the appointment of bishops, with the potential of resolving an issue standing in the way of normalizing ties between the Holy See and Beijing.

The Vatican is the only European state that continues to maintain diplomatic ties with the self-governing island, though many are wondering when the Holy See will switch its recognition to Beijing after the groundbreaking consensus on the appointment of Chinese bishops.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry rushed to quell speculation, stressing that the Vatican had repeatedly assured Taipei that the agreement with Beijing “is not of a political or diplomatic nature, and will not affect the diplomatic relationship that has been in place for 76 years.”

Pope Francis announced in May that the canonization to sainthood of the six, including Pope Paul VI and archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, would take place on October 14.

A file photo shows Taiwanese Vice-President Chen Chien-jen and his wife meeting Pope Francis in the Vatican in September 2016. Photo: Handout

An unnamed high-ranking official told the Taipei paper that President Tsai Ing-wen had already decided to send her deputy Chen, a Catholic, to be her special envoy to attend the ceremony and to shore up the decades-long ties at a somewhat precarious moment.

Chen led a Taiwanese delegation to the Vatican in September 2016 for the canonization of Mother Teresa.

He was made a knight of the Vatican’s Order of the Holy Sepulcher in 2010 and a knight of the Order of St Gregory the Great in 2013 in recognition of his efforts in the fight against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Taiwan in 2003 and his academic achievements as a medical professional.

Meanwhile, the Taipei Times also revealed that the Apostolic Nunciature in the capital city, the Vatican embassy in Taiwan, would reopen soon, after two years of renovation during which the nunciature moved to an office building.

The reopening of the embassy could be a much-needed move for Taiwan to convince the world that the papal state is not going to ditch the island.

The official added that Taiwan and the Holy See had held activities in recent years that underpinned their close relationship, citing the first overseas exhibition of historical artifacts from the Vatican, which was held at the National Palace Museum in Taipei in 2016.

Read more: Possible Sino-Vatican entente will raise a diplomatic storm over Taiwan

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