Pope John Paul II has made a personal appeal to Chinese Catholics to retake their place within the formal body of the Church. Ever since links between the Vatican and Peking broke down more than forty years ago. Chinese Catholics belonging to the government inspired Patriotic Association or Chinese Catholics have had no direct contact with Rome.
In a simple but decisive statement outside Castelgandolfo, the Pope made it clear he believed that it was time to repair the rift with Peking. He told pilgrims that he wanted to "restore the perfect union which once existed between the Holy See and Chinese Catholics."
This message of reconciliation is seen as an optimist response to growing signs of religious toleration in China. Churches are being re-opened and public worship is being permitted in a few cities.
This religious thaw is even penetrating the legal system. A new criminal law will come into force next year which will protect the religious freedom of the individual.
The law states that any "state functionary who deprives others of their freedom of religious belief ... will be sentenced to detention or imprisonment for not more than two years,"