Fr. Lombardi was asked at an Aug. 14 press conference about reports of Chinese youth groups who were prohibited from leaving to South Korea for Pope Francis' Aug. 14-18 pilgrimage for the Sixth Asian Youth Day.
“Certainly we share the sadness of these events, but we cannot say more,” he cautioned, noting that the Asian Youth Day is not organized by the Vatican.
Fr. Heo Young-yup, spokesman for the organizing committee, explained that while more than 60 Chinese young people were able to come to Korea, “many more wanted to come but were not able because of the complicated sitaution. We cannot say more, for the sake of their safety.”
“Not all the Chinese youth who wished to come have done so, perhaps because of the complicated system in that country,” Fr. Heo continued.
“We regret this and we cannot confirm whether or not some participants have been arrested there.”
The mainland Chinese government has no diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and does not recognize the right of the Church to appoint its own bishops. It also has a parallel, state-supported church called the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.”
The faithful who do not belong to this national church often suffer persecution, sometimes including imprisonment.
However, in a spirit of reconciliation, during his flight to Korea, Pope Francis sent a brief message to China's president, Xi Jinping, saying that “I extend my best wishes to your excellency and your fellow citizens, and I invoke the divine blessings of peace and well-being upon the nation.”
The Pope's message was responded to by the Chinese minister of foreign affairs, who said that "we are willing to continue efforts with the Vatican to enter into a constructive dialogue and advance the improvement of bilateral relations."
Holy See press officer Fr. Federico Lombardi said Thursday that “we share the sadness” of the young people from mainland China who were prevented from travelling to South Korea to participate in the Pope's visit.
China, South Korea, PROC, Pope in Korea