ROME — Pope Francis gave a virtual tour of world crises Monday, conspicuously omitting mention of the Uighur genocide taking place in China’s Xinjiang region.
In his annual address to members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, the pope highlighted what he considers to be the major global crises and injustices of the past year.
In his comprehensive litany of world problems, the pope mentioned floods in Vietnam and the Philippines, fires in Australia and California, humanitarian emergencies in Sudan and Mozambique, strife in Yemen and Syria, hunger in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and South Sudan, displaced persons in the Sahel, political unrest in Myanmar, the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East, instability in Lebanon, turbulence in Libya, political and social tensions in the Central African Republic, the deterioration of relations in the Korean Peninsula, and conflicts in the South Caucasus.
Miraculously, in that sweeping, panoramic tour of world problems, the pope’s gaze failed to notice the more than one million Uighur Muslims interned in a network of more than 85 Chinese concentration camps in the region of Xinjiang, where they are being systematically tortured, raped, enslaved, and forcibly sterilized.
In fact, the pontiff’s only mention of China in the address was in reference to last October’s renewal of a secret agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarding the naming of Catholic bishops in the country.
“The agreement is essentially pastoral in nature, and the Holy See is confident that the process now begun can be pursued in a spirit of mutual respect and trust, and thus further contribute to the resolution of questions of common interest,” Francis said.
Unfortunately, this “spirit of mutual respect and trust” seems to mean the inability to call out China for its egregious violations of human rights.
China is notoriously thin-skinned and vindictive when it comes to public criticism and the pope is apparently unwilling to risk upsetting them or jeopardizing the precarious Vatican-CCP deal by coming to the defense of the victims of Chinese atrocities.
The first and only time that the pope has publicly acknowledged the sufferings of the persecuted Uighur Muslims appeared in his 2020 book Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future. In it, the pope declared in passing: “I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uyghurs, the Yazidi.”
The CCP swiftly struck back at Francis for his comments, and Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the pontiff’s remarks had “no factual basis at all.”
“People of all ethnic groups enjoy the full rights of survival, development, and freedom of religious belief,” Zhao said.
The pope apparently learned his lesson and in his annual Christmas blessing in 2020, he once again called attention to the sufferings of the Rohingya and the Yazidi, but made no further mention of the Uighurs.
The pope has received considerable international criticism for his unwillingness to call out China for its grave human rights abuses, despite his practice of enumerating the sufferings of ethnic and religious groups around the world.
“As more and more nations have expressed their concern about the growing evidence of concentration camps and even genocide in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, there has been silence from the one entity that has the whole of suffering humanity at the core of its mission. I refer to the Holy See,” wrote Dominic Lawson in the Sunday Times last summer.
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