Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The following article contains some of Card. Joseph Zen Ze-kiun's thoughts and memories of Card. Paul Shan Kuo-Hsi, who died on August 22 last. The Taiwanese Cardinal's funeral will be held on 1 September in Taipei. Card. Zen and Card. John Tong will attend the ceremony from Hong Kong. So far it is not known whether the Vatican will send a representative, although it is likely, given Card. Shan's great role in the task of evangelization and reconciliation with China.
I got to know Card. Paul
Shan at those "secret" meetings that were held in the Vatican on the
problems of the Church in mainland China, when Card. Jozef
Tomko was Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Those
meetings were "joint and extended" and were attended by officials of the
Secretariat of State and the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, mostly Vatican experts
in dogma and canon law, some Chinese bishops (not from the mainland) and some
so-called "China watchers".
I was invited to the first meeting as a "China watcher" - I taught in seminaries in China from 89 to '96 - and then as coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong. Card. Shan was participating as bishop of Kaohsiung and president of the Episcopal Conference of Taiwan.
Our views on the problems of the Church in China matched perfectly. The difference was in our ways of expressing ourselves. I'm a little '"Italianate", I raise my voice too easily, I move my arms and gesticulate, Paul Shan was a perfect Chinese "wise man" with a quiet and persuasive voice. I envied him, but I found him impossible to imitate.
The last of those meetings was held three days after the canonization of martyrs in China, that is, October 4, 2000, which was also attended by Card. Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Regarding the canonization of the
Chinese martyrs, we the faithful in China are very grateful to Blessed John
Paul II, but it was Card. Shan
who "provoked" the Pope to overcome diplomatic concerns. I
use the word "provoke" because Cardinal dared to tell the Holy Father
that our martyrs were suffering a second martyrdom in Rome. Unfortunately,
the Chinese government vindicated the concerns of the Vatican diplomats, launching
a fierce campaign against the canonization: thus we could say that our martyrs suffered
a third martyrdom!
On 1 July 1997, Hong Kong was returned under the sovereignty of the Chinese nation, unfortunately governed by the Communist and atheist Party. To ensure a peaceful succession to Card. John Baptist Wu, the Holy Father, towards the end of 1996, gave the diocese of Hong Kong a coadjutor bishop [the same Joseph Zen - ed] and an auxiliary [John Tong-ed] for the Cardinal. The decision was certainly a sign of the Pope's great kindness, but the genius of the "one plus one" formula came from Card. Tomko's proposal, and, doubtlessly, a word in his hear from Card. Shan.
For our ordination, we two
bishops could not - for obvious reasons - invite bishops from mainland China
and neither was it advisable at the time to invite many bishops from Taiwan. With great understanding, Card. Shan,
as President of the Episcopal Conference, came to represent them all. He
was therefore one of the "parents" of our episcopate.
From the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has shown a special solicitude for his children of the Church in China. He wrote a Letter that will stand out as a milestone, and has established a Pontifical Commission of impressive consistency.
When in 2007 was published the letter, I found myself in front of the beautiful text [in Italian], but also a seriously flawed Chinese translation and an "Explanatory Note" which contained misleading expressions, with an abyss in the expressions contained within the papal letter.
Not knowing what to do, I immediately
travelled to Taiwan to seek the advise of Card. Shan. It
proved to be sound advice: immediately publish the comment that I had already
prepared, in which I pointed out the beauty of the Letter, a masterpiece of
balance between clearly explained doctrinal principles and understanding benevolence
towards the people, and then, after a few days, publish
my criticism of the translation errors and tendentious explanatory note.
As is obvious, Card. Shan was appointed one of the members of the new Commission, but after the first few meetings, he resigned: due to age could no longer bear more fatigue of long journeys. His absence grieved me deeply. In his goodness he said, "You are there, so I do not need to worry".
I did my best to take these words to heart and I would often travel to Taiwan to speak with him and seek his wise counsel.
My last visit with Card. Shan was
a month ago, in late July, after his last operation. He
was already in a wheelchair, but his mind was clear and voice robust, I certainly
did not foresee that the end was so near. He gave me two books
and insisted on signing them. It
was a rather difficult task: this hand no longer had the strength and the
characters of his name in Chinese are particularly complicated.
Everyone knows Card. Shan's brave battle with cancer in these six years, but it would be better to say that he transformed it into a special grace of the Lord, as a shining testimony of how someone who believes is able to live and knows how to die.
There is one fact, perhaps lesser known, but very significant for me as an example of the greatness of this man of God, and I will share it with you here, as I conclude my thoughts on the late Cardinal.
Months ago, Mr. Wang
Zuoan, Director of Religious Affairs of the State Council of China and Mr. Liu,
Secretary General of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics paid him a
had expressed his desire to go and see his sister in her native village and
visit his old school friend, Msgr. Aloysius Jin Luxian, Bishop
Mr. Wang said, "Okay, I'll grant you permission, even if you have bad 'record'." The Cardinal asked: "What bad record?". "You have met the Dalai Lama," he replied. And the Cardinal rebuked: "What harm is there in the fact that a religious person encounters another religious person?".
"Anyway - Wang concluded - on humanitarian grounds, we'll let you visit." And the Cardinal, with great dignity, pointed out: "I do not need any humanitarian reason: there is a foundation in China, which has expressed a desire to give me an award."
"Okay, I will facilitate the invitation," Wang capitulated.
Shortly before the departure date, however, it was to have been in June, the officials told him that he a visit to Beijing should be included in his itinerary. The Cardinal protested, saying that this was not his intention. He knew that any visit to Beijing would certainly be manipulated for political purposes and refused the condition imposed. And so permission for his last visit to China to his family and friends was refused.
I do not know what to admire most, the wisdom of his judgment or his readiness to sacrifice. But now from Heaven our cardinal is as close as ever to his sister and from there, he can help his friend Aloysius, and the diocese of Shanghai, currently in the eye of a storm, more than he was able to do on earth.
Having loved me as a brother, now from Heaven he will be my protector, but to my eyes he will always remain a master of wisdom and fidelity to the Church.