China is calling on the Vatican to take the first step to heal a widening rift between Pope Benedict and the state-sanctioned Catholic Church in China.
At a news conference in Beijing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu called for the Vatican to "acknowledge the fact of China's freedom of religion" and create conditions for improved relations "through concrete actions."
The comment follows remarks in Pope Benedict's traditional Christmas Day message, in which he offered the hope that Chinese Catholics will "not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience."
China and the Vatican have been at odds since the Chinese church appointed a new bishop and elected new leaders in recent weeks in defiance of the Roman Catholic authorities in Rome.
The official Catholic Church in China operates openly but does not recognize the authority of the pope. Other Catholics who do acknowledge the pope practice their faith in secret and sometimes face persecution.