Pope Francis has sparked the ire of Chinese authorities after he included the Muslim minority Uighurs among examples of groups persecuted for their faith for the first time. It is estimated that China has 1 million Uighur men held in concentration camps.
In a new book ‘Let Us Dream’, Francis writes: “I think often of persecuted peoples: the Rohingya, the poor Uighurs, the Yazidi — what ISIS did to them was truly cruel — or Christians in Egypt and Pakistan killed by bombs that went off while they prayed in church”.
Francis has declined to call out China for its crackdown on religious minorities, including Catholics, much to the dismay of many church leaders and human rights groups. The Vatican last month renewed its controversial agreement with Beijing on nominating Catholic bishops, and Francis has been careful to not say or do anything to offend the Chinese government on the subject.
China and the Vatican have had no formal relations since the Communist Party cut ties and arrested Catholic clerics soon after seizing power in 1949 but recently renewed an agreement that gives Beijing a say over the appointment of bishops.
Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Francis’ 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 at a daily briefing.