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China: Open to Vatican talks but Catholics must be patriots

Associated Press logo Associated Press 28/12/2016

BEIJING — China said it is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stressed the importance of patriotism to Beijing and adapting Catholicism to Chinese society.

A top religious affairs official made the remarks Tuesday at a meeting of representatives of China's official Catholic church taking place this week in Beijing, state media reported.

Wang Zuo'an, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said the Chinese government hoped that the Vatican can adopt a flexible and pragmatic attitude, and take concrete actions to create favorable conditions for improving relations, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

China severed relations with the Holy See in 1951 after the Communists took over, and the officially atheistic government closed churches and imprisoned priests, some for decades. Worship is officially allowed only in state-authorized churches outside the pope's authority, although many of China's estimated 12 million Catholics are thought to attend underground churches.

Wang stressed the importance of patriotism within religion and "pushing ahead with the sinicization of Catholicism."

The ruling Communist Party has long feared that opposition to its rule could be spread by religious and other civic groups outside its control. In May last year, President Xi Jinping called for religions to adapt to Chinese society, which he termed the "sinicization of religion."

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