The Vatican, Oct. 18 (CNA)－Pope Francis currently has no plans to visit Taiwan, the Holy See said Thursday in response to media inquiries, four days after Taiwan invited the pontiff to visit.
Taiwan’s invitation was extended in person by Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), on behalf of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), in a meeting with the pope before a canonization ceremony for Pope Paul VI and six others in the Vatican on Oct. 14. On Chen’s return to Taiwan on Tuesday, he told the press that the invitation had received “a cordial and amicable response” from the pope.
However, on Thursday, the press office of the Holy See issued a statement, declining the invitation. “Such a visit by the Holy Father is not being planned,” Greg Burke, director of the press office, said in the statement.
In response, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said the government will continue to invite the pope to visit so that he can observe in person the freedom of the religion throughout Taiwan.
Meanwhile, Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire reported Tuesday that two Chinese bishops, Guo Jincai and Yang Xiaoting, had recently invited Pope Francis to visit China, but it did not say whether the pontiff had accepted the invitation. There has been no official response public so far from the Vatican to China’s invitation to the pope.
Guo and Yang are representing China at the Synod of Bishops, a regular gathering that is being held Oct. 3-28 at the Vatican to discuss pressing issues facing the Catholic Church. It is the first time Chinese delegates are participating in the meeting. The Vatican has diplomatic relations with Taiwan but not with China.
However, a landmark provisional agreement signed Sept. 22 between the Vatican and the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops in China has given rise to concerns in some quarters that it would lead to the Vatican switching diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.
Responding to Hong Kong reporters’ questions about the invitations to the pope by both Taiwan and China, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, said Thursday that communist China would use a visit by Pope Francis for propaganda purposes.
The pope would not be able to meet with those Catholics in China who are caught in the middle between Church and state, Zen said. According to international media reports, millions of Catholics in China attend government-sanctioned churches, while many others practice their faith in “underground churches” that are loyal to the Vatican and disagree with the Chinese government’s restrictions on religion.
In December 2017, Pope Francis told reporters during his return from Myanmar that he had no current plans to visit China.
According MOFA spokesman Lee, any visit by the pope to mainland China would gain high attention in the international community as China has been tightening suppression of religious freedoms.