Pope Declines to Meet With Dalai Lama – The Newyork Times

LONDON — A gathering of Nobel Peace Prize laureates opened in Rome on Friday, overshadowed by a dispute with the Vatican over reports that Pope Francis had refused to grant an audience to the Dalai Lama, the 1989 laureate, for fear of offending China.

The pope’s action, reported by news agencies and by the Dalai Lama’s followers, seemed to represent a further success for China in its efforts to isolate the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who is regarded as one of Beijing’s principal political nemeses.

The laureates’ gathering was initially set to take place in Cape Town in October, but the South African government of President Jacob G. Zuma, which has close economic ties with China, refused to grant the 79-year-old Dalai Lama a visa.

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The action provoked a boycott by other Nobel laureates. Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, the South African winner of the 1984 prize for his battle against apartheid, responded to Mr. Zuma’s action by saying he was “ashamed to call this lickspittle bunch my government.”

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, was quoted in news reports on Thursday as saying that “Pope Francis obviously holds the Dalai Lama in very high regard, but he will not be meeting any of the Nobel laureates.”

But, the spokesman said, the pope would send a video message to the conference.

The Dalai Lama was quoted by the Italian news agency ANSA as saying on Thursday that he had been turned down for an audience “because it might create inconveniences.”

Francis, like his predecessor, Benedict XVI, is seeking a warming of ties with the Chinese authorities, which broke off relations in 1951 and set up a branch of the Roman Catholic Church outside the Vatican’s control.

The Dalai Lama has not had a papal audience since an encounter with Benedict in 2006.

The Rome gathering was scheduled for two days after the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize was presented in Oslo to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian campaigner for the rights of children.

In their acceptance speeches, both referred to earlier laureates such as Nelson Mandela, who was awarded the 1993 prize jointly with F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last white president, but neither of them alluded to the Dalai Lama.

The laureates’ canceled meeting in Cape Town had been intended to celebrate Mr. Mandela shortly before the first anniversary of his death.

“It was very disturbing for all of us,” said Jody Williams, who shared the 1997 prize for her efforts to outlaw land mines. “We hoped to be able to celebrate the legacy of Nelson Mandela, and it didn’t work out for political reasons, which is very tragic,” Agence France-Presse quoted her as saying.

The city authorities in Rome, she said, had been warned by Chinese officials that they faced unspecified consequences for hosting the gathering after what a South African news website, The Daily Maverick, called the “Dalai Lama Debacle” in Cape Town.

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China has conducted a dogged campaign to persuade political leaders in countries including Norway and Britain to avoid treating the Dalai Lama as a visiting dignitary.

Angelo Moratti, an Italian entrepreneur who described himself as a longtime friend of the Dalai Lama’s, said pressures on European public figures to steer clear of the Tibetan spiritual leader had been mounting steadily.

“In the last 10 years, we have had five prime ministers in Italy, and none of them met the Dalai Lama,” who visited the country seven times in the same period, he said.

Before the latest attempt to meet with Francis, the pope had twice turned down requests for an audience made by the Dalai Lama during visits to Switzerland and Italy, Mr. Moratti said in a telephone interview.

The Dalai Lama’s advisers linked the refusal to the Vatican’s quest for better ties with China amid some signs of warming.

In August, as the pope flew to South Korea, Beijing broke with tradition and allowed the pope’s plane to cross Chinese airspace. As is the Vatican’s protocol during flights over foreign countries, the pope sent a message to Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, offering his best wishes and blessings of peace.

Catholicism in China is sharply divided between official and unofficial worship. China controls the appointment of bishops in its officially approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a state organization. But local officials also tolerate so-called underground churches, attended by about half of the country’s roughly 15 million Catholics, where the pope and his authority are more openly discussed.

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