Pope Francis is urging China’s divided Catholic community to come together in communion, as he seeks to heal decades of estrangement following a landmark deal with Beijing over bishop nominations.

Francis made a special appeal at the end of his weekly audience Wednesday, noting that May 24 is a feast day in China dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Francis praised China’s Catholics, “who among daily difficulties and effort, continue to believe, hope and love.” He urged them to be witnesses of charity and fraternity “always remaining united in the communion of the universal church.”

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

China’s estimated 12 million Catholics are split between those belonging to the official church and an underground church loyal to the pope. The 2018 deal seeks to unify them and bring all Chinese bishops into communion.

Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)