RELIGION

China: Open to Vatican talks but Catholics must be patriots

  • A woman walks past a decoration displaying a baby Jesus doll part of a Nativity scene at the Nantang Catholic Church in Beijing, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. China's head of religious affairs said that Beijing is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stressed that Catholics should "hold up high the flag of patriotism" and adapt Catholicism to Chinese society. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    A woman walks past a decoration displaying a baby Jesus doll part of a Nativity scene at the Nantang Catholic Church in Beijing, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. China's head of religious affairs said that Beijing is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stressed that Catholics should "hold up high the flag of patriotism" and adapt Catholicism to Chinese society. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)  (The Associated Press)

  • Women walk with a stroller past a Christmas tree decorated outside the Nantang Catholic Church in Beijing, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. China's head of religious affairs said that Beijing is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stressed that Catholics should "hold up high the flag of patriotism" and adapt Catholicism to Chinese society. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    Women walk with a stroller past a Christmas tree decorated outside the Nantang Catholic Church in Beijing, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016. China's head of religious affairs said that Beijing is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stressed that Catholics should "hold up high the flag of patriotism" and adapt Catholicism to Chinese society. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)  (The Associated Press)

  • In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, a man prays during mass on the eve of Christmas at the South Cathedral official Catholic church in Beijing. China says Tuesday, Dec 27, 2016, it is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stresses the importance of patriotism to Beijing and adapting Catholicism to Chinese society. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

    In this photo taken Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2014, a man prays during mass on the eve of Christmas at the South Cathedral official Catholic church in Beijing. China says Tuesday, Dec 27, 2016, it is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stresses the importance of patriotism to Beijing and adapting Catholicism to Chinese society. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)  (The Associated Press)

China said it is willing to have constructive dialogue with the Vatican but stressed the importance of patriotism to Beijing and adapting Catholicism to Chinese society.

A top religious affairs official made the remarks Tuesday at a meeting of representatives of China's official Catholic church taking place this week in Beijing, state media reported.

Wang Zuo'an, the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, said the Chinese government hoped that the Vatican can adopt a flexible and pragmatic attitude, and take concrete actions to create favorable conditions for improving relations, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

China severed relations with the Holy See in 1951 after the Communists took over, and the officially atheistic government closed churches and imprisoned priests, some for decades. Worship is officially allowed only in state-authorized churches outside the pope's authority, although many of China's estimated 12 million Catholics are thought to attend underground churches.

Wang stressed the importance of patriotism within religion and "pushing ahead with the sinicization of Catholicism."

The ruling Communist Party has long feared that opposition to its rule could be spread by religious and other civic groups outside its control. In May last year, President Xi Jinping called for religions to adapt to Chinese society, which he termed the "sinicization of religion."