Pope Francis turned down an opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama, who was in Rome earlier this week attending a Nobel Peace Prize winners’ conference. The Pope’s decision did not generate any bad feelings between the two religious leaders.
Spokespeople at the Vatican decline to say whether or not there was an official request made by the Dalai Lama to meet the Pope. Either way, the Dalai Lama was not welcomed into the Vatican with open arms.
Up to this point in his career, Pope Francis has been enthusiastic about bridging the gap between different religions through diplomatic discussions with other religious leaders. As a matter of fact, this was the first thing on his agenda. The day after he was formally installed to his position as head of the Catholic Church, Francis welcomed a diverse group of religious leaders to the Vatican. This group included Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, who declared that “the unity of the Christian churches is the first and foremost of our concerns.” However, the group did not discriminate against non-Christians as it included Jewish and Muslim leaders as well as representatives of Buddhist and Hindu faiths.
As it turns out, Pope Francis’ decision to turn down a meeting with the Dalai Lama is yet another example of his devotion to diplomacy. In this case, he was afraid of upsetting the Chinese. While the Vatican cut diplomatic ties with the country over sixty years ago, Francis has said on numerous occasions that he wants to improve relations between the Chinese government and the Catholic Church. In August, while on his way to South Korea, he sent a radio message giving his “best wishes” to the Chinese president. Although still a long ways from restoring amicable relations with China, Pope Francis knew that his efforts could be completely upended if he chose to meet with the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile ever since the failed Tibetan uprising against the People’s Republic of China in 1959.
The Dalai Lama knows how he is perceived by members of the Chinese government and he understands how this perception affects the way he is treated by other diplomats that are trying to appease them. As a matter of fact, this is not the first time that a major world leader has had to reconsider meeting with him because of a possible reaction from China. In February, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged President Obama to cancel his arranged meeting with the Dalai Lama.
Pope Francis might have turned down this opportunity but the Dalai Lama implied that there would be a next time when he said in an interview: “This time I won’t meet Pope Francis.” They have a great deal of respect and admiration for one another and many feel it would be a shame for two like-minded religious icons to not have the opportunity to come together and discuss the world’s problems.
By Dac Collins
Photo by Catholic Church of England and Wales – Flickr License