DAILY CATHOLIC     TUESDAY     May 18, 1999     vol. 10, no. 96

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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      VATICAN (CWNews.com) -- The Holy See is actively studying possible destinations for a papal trip to Asia later this year, during which he would promulgate the apostolic exhortation formally concluding the Synod of Asia, which convened in Rome from April 19 to May 14, 1998.

      That discussion formed a backdrop for a meeting on May 17 between Pope John Paul II and Vasco Joachim Rocha Vieira, the governor of Macao. Macao, which has been a Portuguese colony for 442 years, will be handed over to Chinese authority in December 1999. That prospect is causing real fears among the 440,000 residents, of whom 22,000 are Catholics.

      On December 19, 1998-- exactly one year his government cedes its power to Chinese control-- Governor Vieira visited Rome to invite the Pope to visit Macao. Some Vatican officials reportedly gave a warm reception to that idea, believing that Macao would be an appropriate venue for the papal visit and the promulgation of the exhortation based on the Asian Synod. A visit to Macao would have considerable symbolic value, since the island was the base of operations for the missionaries who brought the faith to China and Japan four centuries ago. On the other hand, diplomatic officials wondered whether a papal visit-- undertaken at a time when Macao is still a colony-- would affront the Chinese government, at a time when the Holy See is working to gain some rapport with the rulers in Beijing.

      China would also be an attractive site for the papal visit, since it is by far the most populous country in Asia (or, for that matter, in the world). But political tensions between Rome and the Communist regime make it highly unlikely that China would be selected. Similar political difficulties also weigh against a choice of Vietnam-- the most heavily Catholic country on the Asian mainland-- although in recent weeks there have been some signs of improvement in relations between Rome and Hanoi.

      Another possible destination would be India. During the Synod discussions, many bishops recommended a papal voyage to India, with Calcutta and New Delhi mentioned as specific possibilities. The episodes of Hindu violence against Christians might prompt some concerns about security during a papal trip. On the other hand, such a visit would give the Pontiff an opportunity to pay homage to Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

      The Holy See is also working to arrange a trip by Pope John Paul to Iraq. The main obstacles to such a voyage stem from the strong opposition by American diplomats.

      The Pope's trip to Asia, and the promulgation of the apostolic exhortation, is likely to take place in the autumn. Some sources in Rome have pointed to an October date; others say a November trip is more likely.

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

May 18, 1999       volume 10, no. 96


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