Pope John Paul II Wednesday asked Beijing for forgiveness for past errors of Christian missionaries in China, and appealed for a resumption of dialogue and normalization of relations. There have been no links between China and the Vatican since 1951.
In his message, the pope apologized to the Beijing government for the errors committed by Christians during the colonial past.
"Particularly at this time of deep uncertainty," the Pope said, "the normalization of ties between the People's Republic of China and the Vatican would undoubtedly have positive repercussions on the progress of humanity." The Pope's message was read at a conference on dialogue between China and the West, which centers on the figure of Matteo Ricci, a Jesuit priest who arrived in Beijing in 1601, and managed to spread Christian and Catholic knowledge during China's imperial rule.
Following the example of what he called "this distinguished son of the Catholic Church," the pontiff reaffirmed that "the Holy See looks to China with profound fondness and careful attention. China should know that the Catholic Church intends to offer once again its humble and disinterested service for the good of Chinese Catholics and all the country's population," he said. The pope acknowledged that some missionaries did not always behave in the best interest of the Chinese. Expressing deep sadness for these errors and limitations of the past, the Pope apologized to those who were hurt, after feeling what he called a "lack of respect and esteem by the Catholic Church towards the Chinese people." China is one of the few countries in the world without diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Beijing broke off the ties in 1951. It has always maintained that normalization of diplomatic relations would be possible only if the Vatican broke off ties with Taiwan.