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China Hopes for Improved Ties with Next Pope

China's official Catholic Church, which does not recognize papal authority, has held a prayer service in Beijing for the late pope.

Hundreds filled Beijing's South Cathedral Monday for a memorial Mass in honor of Pope John Paul II, following his death on Saturday.

Among those attending were diplomats from the Embassy of Poland, the late pope's homeland.

The Chinese Communist government, which bans allegiance to the Vatican, allowed the service to take place, because it was conducted by the state-run Catholic Church, known as the China Patriotic Catholic Association.

Echoing earlier remarks by Foreign Ministry officials, the association's general secretary, Reverend Ma Yinglin, said after the Mass that China wants to see improved relations with the Vatican.

"We hope the new pope can pick up the will of the late pope, realizing a normalization of China-Vatican relations and of a papal visit to China," he said.

Beijing never allowed Pope John Paul to fulfill his longtime wish to come to China. Communist officials accuse the Vatican of interfering in China's internal affairs for, among other things, maintaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China considers a part of its territory.

Vatican analysts say the biggest obstacle to normalized relations, however, is the communist leadership's refusal to let the Holy See appoint bishops, as it does in other countries. Beijing hopes the next pope will give up this demand, but analysts say that is an issue central to Roman Catholic doctrine.