- BEN BLANCHARD
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s special envoy met Pope Francis on Sunday and asked him to “pray for Taiwan”, on a trip the Taipei government touted as a demonstration of their close relationship even as the Holy See is courting China.
The Vatican is Taiwan’s only European diplomatic ally, claimed by China, and Taipei has watched with concern Pope Francis’ moves to improve relations with China. The democratically governed island only has formal ties with 14 countries, largely thanks to Chinese pressure.
Pope Francis celebrates a mass after elevating new cardinals to the highest rank in the Catholic hierarchy, at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on August 30. PHOTO: Reuters/Remo Casilli/File Photo.
Former Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen, a devout Catholic visiting the Vatican for the beatification of former Pope John Paul I, wrote on his Facebook page Sunday night that he had been “specially received” by Pope Francis before the ceremony.
“I conveyed President Tsai’s greetings to the Pope and asked the Pope to pray for the people of Taiwan. The Pope responded with a smile and [said he] looking forward to praying together for world peace,” Chen added.
Taiwan’s presidential office said the nine-day visit “demonstrates the close friendship between the two countries.”
Chen visited the Vatican three times during his tenure, in 2016, 2018 and 2019, including attending the canonization ceremony of Mother Teresa.
Pope Francis told Reuters in July that while the Vatican’s secret and disputed agreement with China on the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops is not ideal, he hoped it could be renewed in October because the Church take a long-term view.
The deal, which was struck in 2018 and has to be renewed every two years, was aimed at bridging a long-standing rift across mainland China between an underground flock loyal to the pope and an official state-backed church.
Both parties now recognize the pope as supreme head of the Catholic Church.
China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom, but in recent years the government has tightened restrictions on religions, seen as a challenge to the authority of the ruling Communist Party.
Taiwan imposes no restrictions on freedom of religion and has a thriving religious community that includes Christians, Buddhists and Muslims.