Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has asked all of the (official) bishops of China to be courageous, and not slip into compromises with the regime.
In an article in the January 4 edition of the diocesan weekly Gong Jiaobao, he urges Chinese bishops and priests to have the virtues of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, and not to submit constantly to directions of the state that are contrary to the faith: "to suffer for the faith will eventually bring victory, even if today everything seems lost."
In the article, entitled "Inspiration from the martyrdom of Saint Stephen," Cardinal Zen provides an analysis of the developments of the Catholic Church in China over the past two years, remembering the illicit episcopal ordinations (without the permission of the Holy See) in 2006, when - "regretfully," he says - a dozen bishops, approved by the Vatican, took part in the ceremony out of fear, and some of them perhaps through deceit.
He then recalls the "ray of light" that appeared in 2007 with a meeting at the Vatican about the Church in China, and especially with the release of Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics. In the letter, the pope says that the Chinese Patriotic Association has purposes that are contrary to the Catholic faith, wanting to manage the ordination of bishops and constitute a Church independent of the Holy See.
Precisely for this reason, in the article Cardinal Zen rails against the celebrations in Beijing last December 19, celebrating the 50th anniversary of autonomous episcopal ordinations in China. The celebrations were sponsored by the United Front, the Patriotic Association, and the state administration for religious affairs (cf. AsiaNews 20/12/2008 Beijing, Vatican must break with Taiwan and not interfere in domestic affairs).
For the bishop of Hong Kong, there is nothing to celebrate, because the method of "self-election" and "self-ordination" was promoted during the 1950's by radical forces of the extreme left, which looked at the pope as a representative of imperialism. But this view is now outdated, at a time like today when China is celebrating 30 years of economic reforms, aimed at opposing that radical mentality.
"Forcing Catholics to do something against their conscience," the cardinal writes, "is a grave insult to the dignity of every Chinese citizen, [and for this reason] there is nothing to be proud of, nothing to celebrate. Launching this celebration demonstrates that those who hold power do not want to give it up, and are forcing our great nation to bear the shame of backwardness in this regard."
The prelate then asks if the entire emphasis of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Patriotic Association (PA) and "self-election" and "self-ordination" might not be a preparation for meetings to vote for the new president of the Patriotic Association and the president of the council of Chinese bishops [a sort of episcopal conference, which includes only the official bishops and is not recognized by the Holy See]. The elections of these two leaders is supposed to be held at the national congress of Catholic representatives. It should take place at this time, since the two posts have been vacant for some time: patriotic bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, elected president of the PA in 1998, died in 2007; Joseph Liu Yuanren, patriotic bishop of Nanjing, elected president of the council of bishops in 2004, died in 2005.
The cardinal seems to be suggesting to the bishops that they boycott the upcoming meeting. He asks: "Does this meeting really need to be held? . . . Is it not an insult in response to the pope's letter to Chinese Catholics? Is it not a slap in the face to the pope to participate in such a meeting? . . . Does your conscience really permit you to do this? Will the people of God accept such behavior on your part?"