A man prays during Mass at a Catholic church in Xiliulin, China, Dec. 23, 2012 (CNS photo/Jason Lee, Reuters)
Little has changed in China’s official attitude toward the Vatican since Chairman Mao famously described Christians and other religious groups as, “enemies without guns.” During the most intense years of the Maoist era, the Chairman praised the “life-and-death class struggle” between religion and the People, and continued: “The enemies without guns are more hidden, cunning, sinister and vicious than the enemies with guns.” While China’s rhetoric has softened somewhat since Mao, it still adheres to its position that the Catholic Church interferes in China’s affairs “under the cloak of religion.”
China’s spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, expressed China’s congratulations for his installation as the new Pope, but warned that the Vatican, “must stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, including in the name of religion.” She then asserted China’s demand that Pope Francis sever ties with Taiwan. Beijing’s Communist Party, which severed ties with the Vatican in 1951, was angry that a Taiwan representative attended Pope Francis’ installation, and refused to send a representative from Mainland China. The Holy See, however, did not issue specific invitations to the installation Mass, and as Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, stated, “No one is privileged, no one is refused, everyone is welcome if they say they are coming."
One of the most common refrains I hear from Chinese Catholics is, “It is our dream that the Pope will someday come to China.” And even while they say this they know the complexities of such a request. China’s Communist government maintains its position that religion is an “opiate” that should be eradicated, and the Church maintains its position that true religious freedom cannot exist under Communism. Taiwan’s popular newspaper, The China Post, announced that “President Ma Ying-jeou and first lady Christine Chow had front-row seats at Saint Peter’s Square” during Pope Francis’ installation. Taiwan’s president sat next to Costa Rica President Laura Chinchilla. China alone refused to attend the installation, as China’s Catholics continue to pray that their Holy Father will someday be able to visit their country, still run by a government that sees their religion as an “enemy without guns.”