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5/24/2024 China (International Christian Concern) Representatives from the Vatican visited Shanghai this week, marking the first time Beijing allowed a mainland bishop to participate in a public Vatican event as the keynote speaker.  

This interaction demonstrates the effort put forth by the Vatican and the Catholic church in Beijing to support the church in the best way possible. Much of the meeting discussed a 1924 meeting in Shanghai, which affirmed the need for foreign missionaries in China to give way to the local church leaders.  

Following the communist revolution and the Boxer Rebellion in China, a rise in anti-western influence led to the repression of what many viewed as Western religions, such as Christianity and Islam.  

In 2018, China and the Vatican came to an agreement that attempted to establish a middle ground between the Chinese government claiming exclusive rights to name bishops as a matter of national sovereignty and the papacy’s ultimate authority in appointing bishops to guarantee the Catholic faith is not let by one nation over another.  

Associated Press News noted the pope’s comments, which recognized that the church in China must “increasingly have a Chinese face.” Pope Francis also shared, “[T]he Council of Shanghai did not serve to forget the erroneous approaches that had prevailed in previous times. The participants of the first Chinese Council looked to the future. And their future is our present.”  

The Catholic church in China is split into those participating in the official, state-recognized church and those in the underground church who remain loyal to Rome. There are approximately 12 million Catholics in China.  

These ongoing discussions between the Vatican and the religious figures approved by the Chinese Communist Party demonstrate the difficulty in navigating religious freedom in China.  

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