Pope Francis is joined by Cardinal John Tong Hon, left, and Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow, both from Hong Kong, after presiding over a mass at the Steppe Arena in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, on September 3, 2023. Image Credit: AP

ULAANBAATAR: Pope Francis on Sunday sent greetings to China, calling its citizens a “noble” people and asking Catholics in China to be “good Christians and good citizens,” in his latest overture to the country.

Francis made the unscripted comments at the end of Mass, calling up the former and current archbishops of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon and Archbishop Stephen Chow, to flank him as he spoke.

“These two brother bishops - the emeritus of Hong Kong and the current bishop of Hong Kong. I would like to take advantage of their presence to send a warm greeting to the noble Chinese people,” he said in Italian.

“I wish the best for all the (Chinese) people, to go forward, to always progress. And to Chinese Catholics I ask to be good Christians and good citizens,” he said.

Francis spoke at the end of an unprecedented event where he and just about the entire Catholic population of a country were in the same room.

On Saturday, Francis said governments have nothing to fear from the Catholic Church because it has no political agenda.

Chow, Hong Kong’s top Catholic cleric, in April made the first visit to the Chinese capital by a bishop of the former British colony in nearly 30 years.

Chow, who will be a made a cardinal by the pope this month, told reporters at a papal event on Saturday that he hoped the Church in Hong Kong could be a “bridge Church” with mainland China.

Chow led a delegation of about 40 Catholics from Hong Kong, Chow and said the Catholic Church in Asia was growing and in a position two help Catholics from the East and the West better understand each other.