President of the People's Republic of China, Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. / Gil Corzo/Shutterstock Denver Newsroom, Sep 16, 2022 / 12:00 pm (CNA). Pope Francis expressed his “availability” to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping while both men were in Kazakhstan this week, but China declined, according to a Reuters report citing an unnamed Vatican official. Pope Francis was in Nur-Sultan, the Kazakh capital formerly known as Astana, Sept. 13–15 for an interreligious meeting, while Xi was in the same city to meet with Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, one day after the pope did.According to Reuters, the source said the Vatican made “an expression of availability,” and the Chinese side said they “appreciated the gesture” but that there was no free time in Xi’s schedule. A meeting of the two leaders would have been momentous; there has never been a meeting between a pope and a president of China. Pope Francis has said he is willing to visit China, saying on the flight from Rome to Kazakhstan on Sept. 13: “I’m always ready to go to China.”The coinciding visits of Francis and Xi also comes as the Holy See and China determine the renewal of a provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops in China and a cardinal is preparing to stand trial in Hong Kong for his role in a pro-democracy legal fund.Xi has been harshly criticized for overseeing the persecution of religious believers of many stripes in China, including Christians and the Uyghur Muslims of the Xinjiang region.Kazakhstan and China, which are neighbors, have close ties, with large-scale Chinese investments in the Central Asian country’s natural resources through its Belt and Road Initiative. Xi announced his plan for a “new silk road” in the Kazakh capital in 2013. The Chinese leader met with Vladimir Putin in Uzbekistan on Thursday as part of Xi’s first trip outside China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.Pope Francis has said little about China’s human rights violations since the Vatican first entered into a provisional agreement with China in 2018. That deal was meant to unify the country’s 12 million Catholics, divided between the underground Church and the Communist-administered Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and clear a path for the appointment of bishops for Chinese dioceses. Despite the deal, persecution of the underground Church has continued and, according to some, intensified. That deal is expected to be renewed for another two years at the end of the month.
Pope Francis speaking at the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Nur-Sultan (Astana), Kazakhstan, Sept. 13–15, 2022. / Vatican Media CNA Newsroom, Sep 16, 2022 / 07:52 am (CNA). A sensitive passage in the final declaration of the congress that brought Pope Francis to Kazakhstan Sept. 13–15 appears to have been changed after it found the approval of attendants.Initially, point 10 of the declaration said: “We note that pluralism and differences in religion, skin color, gender, race, and language are expressions of the wisdom of God’s will in creation. Thus any incident of coercion to a particular religion and religious doctrine is unacceptable.”A changed wording — apparently made after the approval of the declaration by its participants and the subsequent publication — instead said the following:“We note that pluralism in terms of differences in skin color, gender, race, language and culture are expressions of the wisdom of God in creation. Religious diversity is permitted by God and, therefore, any coercion to a particular religion and religious doctrine is unacceptable.”This new wording was published by the congress website and local media on Sept. 15, apparently hours after the previous version, which was streamed by Vatican News and EWTN — and can still be found online.Pope Francis speaking at the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Sept. 15, 2022. Vatican mediaThe congress declaration almost verbatim drew on the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed by Pope Francis and a prominent sheik in Abu Dhabi in February 2019, which states: “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings,” as per the version published by the Vatican.Speaking to EWTN on Sept. 14 in Kazakhstan, Bishop Athanasius Schneider said the congress attended by Pope Francis risked giving the impression of a “supermarket of religions.”While praising the congress for promoting “understanding, harmony, and peace,” Schneider warned, reported the National Catholic Register, “there is also a danger that we the Catholic Church should not appear simply as one of the many religions.”“We’re not one of the many religions, we’re the only one true religion which God commanded to all people to believe,” Schneider told EWTN’s Alexey Gotovskiy. “There is no other way to salvation.” Bishop Athanasius Schneider in Nur-Sultan (Astana), Kazakhstan, Sept. 14, 2022. Rudolf Gehrig / CNASchneider is auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Astana, Kazakhstan, and actively took part in the papal visit. He has previously raised concerns about the wording of the Abu Dhabi document that God wills a “pluralism of religions.”In what appears to be an answer to these concerns, Pope Francis said in a general audience in April 2019: “Why does God allow many religions? God wanted to allow this: Scolastica theologians used to refer to God’s voluntas permissiva. He wanted to allow this reality: there are many religions. Some are born from culture, but they always look to heaven; they