China warns Pope Francis not to 'interfere' with religion

AP Photo/Gregorio BorgiaPope Francis delivered his message as he celebrated a Mass of reconciliation at Seoul's main cathedral, in South Korea.

Pope Francis has dropped hints that the Vatican wants to improve relations with China and North Korea. However, some state-run church officials in China are warning the Pope not to interfere.

According to The Washington Post, though the Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with China since 1951, the Pope sent out two "goodwill" telegrams to President Xi Jinping. The Pope reportedly received "warm responses" from the president. However, some officials were not as welcoming.

The "official" Catholic Church in China is said to be the Catholic Patriotic Association -- answerable to the Communist Party, according to the Post. 

Liu Yuanlong, vice president of the association, told the state-run Global Times that the Vatican should "respect China in terms of the personnel of a diocese."

Yuanlong said, "China will always safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it never allows foreign forces to interfere with religion."

Zhuo Xinping, director of the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, described the 77-year old Argentine pontiff as a "friend of developing economies." 

The Post reports that Zhou told the state-run outlet, China Daily, that he welcomed the Pope's move, saying Francis had been active in improving Vatican ties with Beijing since his March 2013 election. 

On his trip to South Korea, the Pope spoke to an audience of some 70 bishops from 35 Asian countries and called for greater dialogue with "countries in Asia with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship."

On the return flight from his five-day tour of South Korea, the Pope was allowed to cross Chinese air space for the first time en route to Seoul. On the return flight, the Pope told journalists Monday that the Vatican respects the Chinese people.

"The church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work," the Pope said.