Pope meets mainland Chinese bishop in first ever public meeting 
News of the event gets mixed response from open and underground Catholic 
communities in China.
Compiled by Global Pulse staff
October 13, 2016

Bishop Joseph Xu Honggen of Suzhou and pilgrims meet Pope Francis on Oct. 5. 
Photos of their meeting went viral on social media among Catholics. (Photo 

Pope Francis has met with a bishop from mainland China in the first ever public 
meeting between the head of the church and a Chinese bishop, 

The event met a mixed reception among the open and underground Catholic 
communities in China due to ongoing talks between the Vatican and China's 
ruling Communist Party that have divided the faithful.

Bishop Joseph Xu Honggen of Suzhou* from China's eastern Jiangsu province met 
the pope in a public audience at St Peter's Square on October 5.

Bishop Xu, who is approved by the Vatican and Beijing, brought with him a group 
of flag waving Chinese pilgrims who joined in on posed photographs with the 

Due to the fraught nature of the Vatican's relationship with the Chinese 
communist government, similar meetings between the pope and a Chinese bishop 
were always conducted privately in the past.

China-based publishing house Faith Press published a commentary by Father Han 
Qingping, an active blogger in the open church community, which said the public 
meeting was important because of the perceived growing accord between the 
Vatican and Beijing, especially regards to negotiations "focused particularly 
on the appointment of bishops."

"Such a meeting may not be news for priests and laypeople in Europe and America 
or even in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. But for the China Church which has gone 
through several decades of winters, it is undoubtedly a sign of the spring 
blossom," Father Han said.

"It is for the first time specially arranged for Bishop Xu and his pilgrims to 
meet with the pope, and to shake hands and greet him. How could it not draw our 
special attention?" said Father Han.

No news on Vatican Radio

Despite the significance of the Oct. 5 meeting, the Chinese service of Vatican 
Radio did not carry the news even though it ran a story about Pope Francis 
greeting a group of Wenzhou laypeople in the Vatican in May 2015.

Father John, an open priest in northern China, believed that the meeting was an 
"intended gesture."

"Vatican officials might want to show the event was just a coincidence. But it 
is known that meeting the pope, even in a public audience, needs 
pre-arrangement," the priest told

"The greeting perhaps is to show the China-Vatican negotiation is smooth and 
relations are good," he added.

An underground priest in eastern China, who asked not to be named, did not 

"The pope has fallen into a trap as the meeting created an impression that he 
welcomed a bishop sent by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association," he said. 
The association is accused of controlling the church for the government.

* could not reach Bishop Joseph Xu Honggen for comment before 

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