Following the reception of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize by two south Asians this week, Pope Francis has praised Nobel laureates' efforts for peace but chose not to meet with the Dalai Lama, who won the prize in 1989. The Pope likely declined to meet with Tenzin Gyatso, who is the 14th Dalai Lama, so as not to complicate the Vatican's relations with the People's Republic of China. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, sent a message to the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates stating Pope Francis is “deeply grateful for the commitment of the summit participants to promoting peace and fraternity among peoples, and for their efforts in finding solutions to the conflicts of our day.” Cardinal Parolin wrote that “Pope Francis prays that all present may be renewed and encouraged in their urgent work, and that their labours may bear an abundant harvest of peace for the world.” On Wednesday, Pakistani education activist Malala Yousefzai, who is 17, and Indian child rights' campaigner Kailash Satyarthi were awarded this years Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, and the world summit of laureates is currently being held in Rome. The Dalai Lama is participating in the summit, and requested a meeting with the Pope. Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press officer, said the Pope “is not meeting any of the Nobel laureates,” but “obviously has very high regard for the Dalai Lama.” The leader of Tibetan Buddhism has lived in exile from mainland China since 1959, and Pope's decision not to meet with him suggests a wish not to exacerbate relations between the Holy See and Beijing. With his dream of being the first Pope to visit China, Pope Francis has pursued warmer relations with the country under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who became president the day following Francis' election as Bishop of Rome. Xi signalled he is open to a thaw in relations when he, the first Chinese president to do so, responded in written form to the wishes Pope Francis sent him after his election. After that, for the first time in history, China allowed a papal flight to utilize its air space, in the route to South Korea, which the Pope visited Aug. 13-18. The Vatican and China are at odds over the situation of the Church in the Peoples' Republic. It is split between the Patriotic Association, an official organization which answers to the country's communist party, and an “underground Church” faithful to the Pope, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are often not acknowledged by Chinese authorities. In the press conference he held on his flight back from South Korea, Pope Francis showed his wish to visit China, affirming he would have gone there “even tomorrow morning.” Pope Francis also mentioned the letter Benedict XVI sent in 2007 to Catholics in China, describing it as a “milestone.” The letter opened a way for dialogue with the authorities, while maintaining firmness on the principles of the Church’s pastoral autonomy: after its publication, there had been signs of thaw between the Holy See and Beijing which led to priestly ordinations with the twofold approval of Rome and Beijing. Relations have, however, fluctuated in the course of the years, and now that they have seemingly come to a sort of interlocutory phase, Vatican diplomacy is very attentive to any gestures that would distance the two parties again. It is noteworthy that Dalai Lama had his last meeting with a Pope in October 2006, when he met Benedict XVI in a private audience. Then, Benedict XVI had sent the letter to the Chinese Catholics in 2007, and the relations with China began fluctuating. The Dalai Lama was back in Rome in 2007 and 2009, and on both the occasions he sought another meeting. The Secretariat of State declined the requests, presumably for the same reasons it has not consented this time.
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