Pope "turns down invitation to visit Taiwan"
Dec 14, 2008, 13:59 GMT
Taipei - Pope Benedict XVI has turned down the invitation from the Archbishop of the Taipei Archdiocese to visit Taiwan next year, news reports said Sunday.
The Central News Agency said that Archbishop John Hung extended the invitation to the pope during his week-long visit to the Holy See which ended on Sunday.
During two audiences, Hung invited the pope to attend celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic church in Taiwan. The pope only smiled and gave no affirmative answer.
A Vatican official told Hung that the pope had a busy scheduled for the next two years, so he probably would not be able to visit Taiwan. But he would send an envoy to preside over the celebrations in Taiwan.
The envoy is expected to be Cardinal Ivan Dias, Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Hung said.
Hung led a delegation to the Vatican on December 6 to report for the first time to the pope on the state of Taiwan's dioceses, and invite the pontiff to visit Taiwan in 2009.
The policies of the Roman Catholic Church require diocesan bishops to visit the pope and report on the state of their dioceses every five years.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary, Taiwan's bishops and parish priests hope to baptize 15,000 people next year.
The Catholic Church was established in Taiwan in 1859 when three Spanish Dominican priests from the Philippines and five Chinese missionaries arrived in Kaohsiung and built Taiwan's first Catholic church. Catholicism first arrived in the 17th century when Taiwan was occupied by the Spanish.
There are 724 Catholic churches, 682 priests and 1,052 nuns in Taiwan, with 300,000 believers.
The Vatican has been trying to improve ties with China so that it can take better care of the 12 million Catholics in China. A papal visit to Taiwan would likely strain those relations.
The Vatican moved its embassy from China to Taiwan in 1957 after the founding of the atheist People's Republic of China in 1949.
But in recent years, the Vatican has been working to normalize relations with Beijing, which demands that the Holy See cut ties with Taiwan and stop interfering in China's religious affairs.