The papal conclave has come to a decision and has elected the new pope of the Catholic Church, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the successor of Benedict XVI, who will be named Francis I.
China has a complex relationship with the Vatican. Problems between the two arose in 1951, when the Church and the Chinese government severed ties after the Vatican recognized Taiwan’s government as independent from the central government in Beijing. China, which believes in “One China,” maintains that Taiwan is part of Greater China. After that date, the nation’s practicing Catholics, estimated to be 12 million, have been divided between those who practice at government-sanctioned churches, where bishops are ordained without the approval of the pope, and those who practice underground, and are loyal to the Vatican.
Some bloggers on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, have reacted to the news, which broke at roughly 2 a.m. local time.
“The new pope looks to be in good physical health, he will have a great responsibility,” one user posted, referencing Benedict, who resigned due to deteriorating health as a result of old age.
Others noted the pope election’s timing alongside China’s transition period.
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“Synchronization with China! They [Catholics] will have their Pope, ours will take office soon too,” a sarcastic blogger wrote, talking about their president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping. Though China does not have elections, Xi, who was appointed as the nation’s future president, will officially take office after the annual parliamentary meetings in Beijing conclude on March 17.
Just like with social media across the globe, on Wednesday many were asking who the pope would be.
“European? Latino? African?” one blogger questioned.
Minutes later, it was announced that Pope Francis, or Jorge Mario Bergoglio, former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was selected by the conclave. For the first time a Jesuit and a Latin American pope will be in the Vatican.
Though China has had a rocky relationship with the Vatican in the past, many Catholics in China hold hope for the future. As the Catholic Church has its firsts, with Pope Francis, many in China hope this is an opportunity for a new beginning for an old problem.
“We pray for the new pope,” Father Francis Zhang, a Beijing priest, told CNN. “We hope he will be spiritual, dynamic and open-minded. We hope he will be more open to China, more pragmatic, and someone who understands very well the Chinese Catholic Church.”