Chinese at the Vatican

Osservatore RomanoIt’s not every day that the Vatican newspaper runs its lead story in Chinese.

Yet there it was in today’s edition of L’Osservatore Romano, a top-of-the-front-page treatment of Pope Benedict’s speech to members of China’s Philharmonic Orchestra and the Shanghai Opera House Chorus — in a Chinese translation.

It was the first time the newspaper had published a papal text so prominently in Chinese, and seemed to match the groundbreaking spirit of the musical event. Everyone was all smiles at the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall May 7, including the approximately 500 Chinese guests who attended. For one evening, music truly seemed to transcend the chronic ecclesial and diplomatic issues between the Vatican and China.

The day after the concert, we went back to reading the usual tea leaves. A line in the Vatican’s daily bulletin announced that the charge d’affaires at the Vatican nunciature in Taiwan would be leaving for a new assignment. As head of the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Taipei (actually, he’s the only one there), his presence was symbolically important.

There were two immediate questions: Would he be replaced? And was this transfer somehow connected to the concert the night before?

A Vatican diplomatic official assured me a new charge d’affaires would be named. Until the Vatican moves its embassy to Beijing — and it has said it’s willing to do so once other issues are settled — the mission will remain in Taiwan, he said.

He also told me that the timing of the charge’s departure had nothing to do with the concert. By coincidence, the announcement of the diplomatic transfer appeared on the same front page of L’Osservatore Romano, but in Italian, not Chinese.

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