Beijing, Feb 26 (IANS): The hopes have risen for a thaw in ties between China and the Vatican under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis, Chinese media reported.
The Vatican seems incompatible in many ways with Beijing, the hearts of the Catholic faith and the biggest Communist nation, the country with the smallest population in the world and the country with the largest, the Global Times reported on Friday.
Since 1951, the two sides have lacked diplomatic connections. As the two countries welcomed new leaders in recent years, some have hoped for a thawing in ties.
These hopes have gained momentum since October last year, when the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that China and the Holy See were engaged in a "positive" dialogue.
Cardinal Parolin also said that a papal delegation would visit Beijing, adding they would discuss normalisation of relations between the two.
Less than four months later, a Chinese delegation visited the Holy See in January.
American Cardinal Theodore McCarrick visited China in February -- a trip in which the cardinal said he would visit some "old friends".
While the cardinal said he was not visiting in his "official capacity", his trip has shown that ties were growing more comfortable.
Cardinal McCarrick, former archbishop of Washington, DC, was the first cardinal from a Western country to visit China since Sino-Vatican ties turned sour. He has reportedly visited China eight times since the 1990s.
His previous visits included meetings with Wang Zuo'an, head of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and late bishop Fu Tieshan, former president of Bishop Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), an organisation not recognised by the Holy See.
Visiting archbishop may carry messages from the Vatican as the pontiff's envoys, according to Liu Guopeng, an associate research fellow at the Institute of World Religion Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The two sides can also talk via a third country such as Italy or through individual and delegation exchanges, even though there is no Chinese permanent delegate to the Vatican, Liu said.