Pope asks forgiveness for mainland martyrs


VATICAN CITY, AFP

Seeking to quell Beijing’s anger over the canonization of Chinese Catholics, Pope John Paul II asked forgiveness Monday for any mistakes that the 120 martyrs may have made.

“If mistakes were made — and can one avoid mistakes ? — we ask forgiveness,” he said in a meeting with pilgrims who attended the ceremony Sunday to canonize 120 Chinese martyrs.

The pope recognized that some, “through a biased and partial understanding of history, may see only errors in the missionary work” performed by the 120 Catholics who died, victims of Chinese persecution.

Mainland China’s Foreign Ministry earlier expressed its “utmost indignation” and laid a “strong protest” against the Vatican’s canonization of the martyrs in a statement carried by Xinhua news agency.

The pope stressed that the Catholic Church had no intention of making “an historical judgment” through the canonizations of the period in which the martyrs lived.

It was a time marked by “dramatic situations” and “violent social unrest,” he said.

The Church intended “even less to legitimize the behavior of governments of the time, which weighed on the history of the Chinese people,” he added.

“It wants, on the contrary, to underline the heroic faith of these worthy sons of China who had no fear of the threats of fierce persecution.”

The 120 bishops, monks, nuns, priests and lay followers, of whom 33 were European and 87 Chinese, were martyred over the past three centuries, most notably during the Boxer Uprising at the start of the 20th century.

The pope canonized the first Chinese saints on Sunday.

The day marked Theresa de Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries, but also communist China’s National Day and the 51st anniversary of the founding of the communist People’s Republic of China.

The Vatican and China have been at odds since 1958 when Beijing named two bishops without the approval of Rome, a move that led to the canceling of diplomatic relations between the two.

In recent years Beijing has cited Rome’s recognition of the Catholic Church in Taiwan as a main impediment to the normalization of ties.

The issue of bishops appointed without the pope’s authority and the ongoing persecution of members of the underground Catholic church in mainland China are the main bones of contention for Rome.

Mainland China’s official Catholic Church has around four million faithful, and while not recognizing the authority of the pope, is largely administered by the atheist communist government.

The underground church, loyal to the Vatican, has about 10 million followers.