Two European Catholic cardinals who recently visited China say that while the Communists treated visits like historical events, the government will move very slowly toward restablishing ties with the Vatican, according to Cardinal Franz Koenig of Vienna and Cardinal Roger Etchegaray of Marseilles.
Cardinal Koenig of Vienna president of the Vatican's Secretariat for Christian Unity, reported that he was invited to address the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on the future of religious. He said he pointed out that Christianity had managed to survive in many Marxist countries and predicted it would continue to do so.
Cardinal Roger of Marseilles said his hosts granted all requests, including one that he be allowed to visit the tomb of the Rev. Matteo Ricci. The tomb of the 16th century Jesuit who introduced Christianity to modern China has been off limits to foreigners because it is located inside a school used to train Communist Party leaders.
The Austrian cardinal said that in meetings with China's ministers for religions minorities, he was told that the country's constitution guarantees freedom to all religions, and that religious properties seized during the cultural revolution have now been returned to their owners.
Koenig met with Michael Fu Tiechan, the new bishop of Peking who became head of the Chinese Catholic Church last December. The church broke its ties with the Vatican in 1958 on orders from the government.
The Communist authorities are not willing yet to allow Chinese Catholics to reunite with the Vatican, th cardinal said. "I don't see any immediate solution to the problem."
However, he said, Chinese Catholics are taking a greater interest in "the events taking place in the universal church" and he told them he would take steps to see that the decrees of Vatican Council II were made available to them.
Etchegaray, who is president of the French conference of bishops, said he was "shocked one day to be greeted as 'a high official of the religion of the West."
"Both the Chinese writers of former times and the Communists today describe Christianity in that way," the cardinal said. "In their eyes, the spread of Christianity throughout the world has removed nothing of its western character."