Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI rapped China for its curbs on religion and freedom of conscience in his Christmas message on Saturday, reflecting the tense relations between the Vatican and Beijing.
"May the birth of the Saviour strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope," he said.
"May the love of `God-with-us` grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all."
Benedict`s comments followed an attack by China earlier this week, when it called the Vatican "imprudent" for criticising the state-sanctioned Chinese church, which is not recognised by the pope.
The Vatican had said appointments of clergy by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association had "unilaterally damaged the dialogue and climate of trust" with Beijing.
The Vatican and China have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951, when the Holy See angered Mao Zedong`s Communist government by recognising the Nationalist Chinese regime as the legitimate government of China.
But on Thursday the pope appointed Hong Kong theologian Savio Hon Tai-Fai to a top post in the Church`s missionary agency in a move seen in the Vatican as a key for improving ties with China.
The Salesian priest will be number two at the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, the Vatican said in a statement.