Xi Jinping, in having crosses replaced with portraits of himself, is possibly more egotistical than the Sun King ever was

It seems clear that Mr Xi, the leader of Communist China, is now the most important such leader since Chairman Mao, the Great Helmsman himself. The signs are hard to read for us Westerners, but we have been told that Mr Xi’s “thought” has now been incorporated into the constitution of the Chinese Communist party, which puts him up there with Mao, Marx and Engels.

What does this mean in practical terms? It means that Xi is firmly ensconced in power, and will perhaps not be resigning after an agreed fixed term as previously thought. Xi is there for the long haul. In the past, Chinese leaders were unveiled after each party congress – quite literally, they stood on a stage and a curtain was drawn back. This has happened again, but tellingly without a new leader-in-waiting. In other words, Xi is a fixture, for the moment.

At this point we should perhaps recall what has happened to all authoritarian rulers of the past who saw themselves as enduring. The Thousand Year Reich barely made it past its 13th birthday, etc, etc. The People’s Republic of China was proclaimed on October 1, 1949. It has been going for less than 70 years, and may have a few years left in it under the current regime, but it will not be eternal. After all, not even Mugabe went on forever.

All this has ramifications from the religious point of view. As this magazine has reported, Mr Xi’s officials have been paying poor Christians in rural China to remove their crosses and replace them with portraits of Mr Xi.

This reminds us that Mr Xi is a totalitarian, who can brook no rivals, and who cannot tolerate the thought that people might worship someone who is not Mr Xi. He is possibly more egotistical that the Sun King himself ever was. It is a reminder, if one were necessary (which it should not be), that Communism with Chinese characteristics is simply not reconcilable with Christianity, or indeed any religious belief. Let us not forget the Chinese government’s persecution of the Falun Gong movement and its Muslim population too. But we do not really need to be reminded of this, because Cardinal Zen, who knows this better than anyone, has told us repeatedly that it is so.

We should be grateful that Mr Xi is having crosses removed and replaced with pictures of himself. It is also good to know that his officials tell us that Christians have “recognised their mistakes and decided not to entrust to Jesus but to the (Communist) Party”. In addition we have the news that hotlines have been set up so children can denounce their own parents for anti-state activities. All of this should banish the temptation to wishful thinking and reminds us that China is Orwellian in its approach to religion, personal freedom and the cult of the state and the great leader.

Given that this is so, why on earth is the Vatican still negotiating with them?