Chinese regime said to intensify persecution of Christians
"We have seen demolished churches and crosses taken off buildings. There's not much we can hope for immediately. The Church is still enslaved to the government."
By Marta Petrosillo
ROME—“We shouldn’t get our hopes up. I don’t see any sign of an immediate improvement in China-Holy See relations.” Thus commented Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, former bishop of Hong Kong, reflecting on a symposium on China held at the the Pontifical Urbaniana University in here. The Nov. 18 event was sponsored by AsiaNews.
Now 82, the bishop told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that, “as in every relationship, [progress] depends on both sides,” adding that it’s not possible to expect any improvement until the Chinese government changes its policy on religion. “The Pope knows the situation—he is patient and ready to work hard to improve the relationship and the situation of the Chinese Church. However, he is also aware that the process can be long,” the prelate said.
Speaking about the situation of the Catholics in China, Cardinal Zen criticized Beijing: “The Chinese government has intensified persecution recently. We have seen demolished churches and crosses taken off buildings. There’s not much we can hope for immediately. The Church is still enslaved to the government.”
Cardinal Zen does not think that now is a propitious time for the Pope to visit China. “I would strongly recommend he not go, because the current circumstances are not the right ones.” According to the cardinal, the Chinese government isn’t making any efforts to improve the Chinese Church’s situation nor improve its relationship with the Vatican. He believes a papal trip would probably be stage-managed by Beijing.
“They would not let the Pope meet the people he would like to meet and they will try to force Francis to meet the people they want him to meet. The only outcome of such a visit will be good people suffering and the Pope’s good will being misused,” the cardinal argued.
The cardinal also commented on the situation in Hong Kong, where protests against China’s new plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 general elections are still ongoing. Protests started as authorities tried to mar the elections by limiting the list of candidates to figures who would be “acceptable” to Beijing. Cardinal Zen strongly supports the so-called Occupy Central protests. He even marched himself among the students who started the peaceful occupation of the city’s financial district.
“We cannot expect to win immediately, but as long as we have freedom of speech, we should keep fighting, even though victory is not close,” he said. Cardinal Zen did charge that the student leaders “went too fast” and were not realistic about their chances of success. “We should stay united, as we were at the start of the protest, but the student leaders began to run on their own without listening to the rest of us,” said the cardinal.
At the AsiaNews Symposium, the cardinal told his audience that when Pope Francis greeted him after Paul VI’s beatification Mass, the Pontiff said of him: “This is the one who fights with a sling,” in a reference to the cardinal’s participation in the protests. “He didn’t mean to make fun of me, but to encourage me,” Zen said, adding that “when [Pope Francis] was serving in Buenos Aires, he always fought for freedom and the poor. So he understands our position.”
Cardinal Zen praised the strong support of Hong Kong’s Church for the people of the island. “The Church, thanks to a competent Commission for Justice and Peace, is backing the population in its fight for democracy, following the Church’s social teaching to the letter,” he said.
ACN photo: Cardinal Zen