According to Italian daily La Repubblica, Pope Francis’ peace envoy will visit China as part of his mission to promote peace in Ukraine.
Update: Later in the day, the Holy See confirmed the trip with a brief note:
On September 13 – 15, 2023, Card. Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna and President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, accompanied by an Official of the Secretariat of State, will travel to Beijing as the Holy Father Francis’ Envoy.
The visit constitutes a further step in the mission desired by the Pope to support humanitarian initiatives and the search for paths that can lead to a just peace.
According to an article published in the Italian daily La Repubblica on September 12, 2023, Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna, is expected in Beijing on September 14, with a possible meeting with the Premier Li Qiang. Contacted by I.MEDIA, the Holy See has not yet commented on this announcement; China would be the last stop for the Pope’s envoy, who has been on a mission to promote peace in Ukraine.
Official meetings between senior representatives of the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China are particularly rare, as the two entities do not have formal diplomatic relations. Since the bilateral signing of pastoral agreements in 2018 on the appointment of Chinese bishops, the only Catholic official to have publicly visited Beijing is the current Bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, who took part in a meeting of bishops last April. He will be made a cardinal on September 30.
Cardinal Zuppi’s mission so far
As part of the mission entrusted to him by the Pope, Cardinal Zuppi, the president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has already been to Kyiv, from June 5 to 6, to Moscow, from June 28 to 30, and to Washington DC, from July 17 to 19.
On September 11, in Berlin, he took part in an ecumenical and inter-religious conference on peace organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio. This Catholic organization was founded in 1968 in Rome with Cardinal Zuppi as one of the first members; he has since carried out several meditations with them in favor of peace.
In Beijing, the Archbishop of Bologna is expected to meet China’s “top institutional leadership” as well as the Premier of China, reports La Repubblica. In the run-up to the visit, the Holy See apparently held talks with the Italian and American governments, as well as with NATO representatives.
Cardinal Zuppi as the Pope’s envoy
“Cardinal Zuppi is a man of great dialogue and universal experience. His background includes working in Mozambique in the search for peace, and that is why I sent him,” Pope Francis said about his envoy on the return flight from his trip to Mongolia on September 4.
While the papal envoy’s efforts have been focused on the repatriation of Ukrainian children from Russia, the possibility that a representative of the pontiff will take on a mediation role has been rejected on several occasions, especially by Ukraine. On September 8, Mykhailo Podolyak, presidential advisor to Volodymyr Zelensky, strongly ruled out this possibility, describing Pope Francis as a “philorussian” in an interview with a Ukrainian media outlet.