Pope Francis Says 'Sign From God' Led Him to Vatican-China Agreement That's Dividing Christians

Pope Francis looking out at people waving Chinese flags in this undated photo.
Pope Francis looking out at people waving Chinese flags in this undated photo. | (Photo: Reuters)

Pope Francis said earlier this week that a "sign from God" affirmed for him that the controversial agreement between the Vatican and China is a good move.

Francis said Tuesday on his flight from Tallinn to Rome that the Vatican's team closely studied the deal that was signed last week with Beijing, allowing Chinese bishops to both be in a communion with the Holy See and be recognized by the Chinese government.

The pontiff argued that he saw a divine message in a letter sent to him in favor of the agreement.

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"The Chinese faithful wrote and the signature of this writ was from a bishop, let's say it this way, of the traditional Catholic Church and from a bishop of the patriotic Church, together and faithful, both of them. For me, it was a sign from God," the pontiff said, according to Catholic News Agency.

Still, Francis admitted that when peace agreements are made "both sides lose something."

"I think of the resistance, the Catholics who have suffered. It's true. And they will suffer. Always, in an agreement, there is suffering. They have a great faith," he noted.

Catholics, along with Protestants and Christians of all walks in China, from recognized churches to underground congregations, have suffered for several years under the atheistic communist regime.

Churches have been closed down and demolished, pastors arrested, congregations monitored, and even threatened with losing privileges if they don't renounce their Christian faith. In the past, the Vatican has also been upset with state interference in the form of the Chinese government placing its own bishops in Catholic dioceses.

Some watchdogs, such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, strongly criticized the deal last week.

"CSW is deeply concerned about the timing of this provisional agreement between the Chinese government and the Vatican," CSW's East Asia Team Leader Benedict Rogers said in a statement.

"While we understand some of the motivations behind the Vatican's effort toward an agreement, there are significant concerns about the implications for freedom of religion or belief in China."

ChinaAid, which monitors religious persecution and human rights abuses, characterized the deal as a "betrayal of both the millions of suffering persecuted Christians in China and the global Catholic Church."

"This could be a repeat of the 1940s Hitler's Germany, when the German state church consented to the persecution and slaughtered millions of Jews," China Aid President Bob Fu said.

"Ironically, how can the Vatican respond with a good clear conscience for this appeasement deal while the CCP just launched a secret war vowing the wipe out of underground Catholics and Protestants?" he asked.

Radio Free Asia reported that there has been mixed reactions among Christians in China over the deal, which will see Bishop Liu Xinhong of Anhui, Ma Yinglin of Kunming, and Yue Fusheng of Heilongjiang recognized by the Vatican.

Han Yingjin, bishop of Sanyuan in the northern province of Shaanxi, argued that the deal could improve morale among Chinese Catholics.

"We shouldn't idealize it, because that would be unrealistic. Rather, this is a solution that everyone feels is acceptable ... and which is a workable solution to practical problems," he said.

Francis meanwhile told reporters on the flight that he's ready to be held accountable for the outcome of the deal.

"I signed the agreement," the pope noted. "I am responsible."

Follow Stoyan Zaimov on Facebook: CPSZaimov

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