Pope Francis delivers a speech to the faithful gathered on Piazza Europa in Piazza Armerina, central Sicily, on September 15, 2018. (AFP)
Pope Francis on Wednesday asked the Chinese government to move ahead with "trust, courage and farsightedness" to continue a dialogue started when the Vatican and Beijing signed a landmark agreement on the appointment of bishops.
In a message to Chinese Catholics, Francis also said that while they should be good citizens, they will not shrink from offering "a word of criticism" when necessary to defend human dignity.
The deal, which was in the making for more than 10 years and signed on Saturday in Beijing, gives the Vatican a long-desired say in the choice of bishops in China, though critics labelled the deal a sellout to the Communist government.
The agreement could also be a precursor to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing after a break of more than 70 years.
China's approximately 12 million Catholics have been split between an underground church swearing loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association. The Vatican said the absence of a deal could have led to a schism between Chinese Catholics that would have been difficult to heal.
Francis said in the letter that he realised that some Chinese Catholics who were persecuted in the past for their loyalty to him might feel abandoned but he urged them to have faith in the new arrangement for the good of all Chinese Catholics.