Someone Opened the Door.

Interesting Great Firewall news. As of yesterday (that I’ve noticed), two previously blocked websites devoted to reporting on the Catholic Church in Asia were unblocked.

First – UCANews, based in Hong Kong, offers in-depth, superbly sourced stories on Asian Catholics, particularly focused on the pastoral level. Which means, unlike any other site on the planet, it’s documented the complicated and critical dynamics between China’s underground and open Church communities. Absolutely essential if – like me – you cover religious freedom in China. Second – Asianews.it, a news service based in Rome, runs Asia-related Catholic news, but with an editorial slant that’s been consistently , and strongly, critical of the CCP’s religious policies [Go figure: as of 4:30 PM, the block on Asianews.it has apparently resumed; UCAN is still available]. In either case, the unblocking of either site (both are tacitly and/or overtly critical of Beijing on a regular basis) is a real and genuine surprise. Especially because – and this is important – both are available in Chinese.

Since early 2007, Beijing and the Vatican reportedly have been working on repairing their battered, severed (since 1951) relationship. There have been several, well-noted public expressions of this: ordinations approved by the Pope and the Chinese government; educational exchanges; and the much touted Chinese performance of Motzart’s Requiem at the Vatican (just yesterday it was announced that Hong Kong’s co-adjutor, Bishop John Tong, was invited to attend the Olympic opening ceremonies). At the same time, there’s been an unfortunate tendency among some members of the media to interpret any signs of warming between the two parties as evidence of a restoration of diplomatic ties. Yet, so far, no restoration … and so you won’t get such speculation from me. I simply don’t know. Interesting timing, though.

[For the record, I was in SE Asia for much of the last two weeks. So it’s quite possible that the unblocking occurred long before I noticed it yesterday. If anyone out there has a more specific sense of the timing, I’d be deeply appreciative if you’d email or leave a comment.]

[Also, I’d like to tip my hat to whomever (if anybody) decided to open up access to either site. Good for you. That’s progress.]