Card.Zen: "Beijing banned Catholic youth from joining us"

The cardinal yesterday accused four Chinese provinces of not giving Catholic youth permission attend Asian Youth Day, considered by Beijing to be "an anti-China event".

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SCMP) – The governments of four Chinese provinces "have forbidden many Catholic youth from coming to Hong Kong for the Asian Youth Day" that for them is "an anti-China event", Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said yesterday. The bishop of the territory was giving an address to inaugurate the event that brought together 1,000 Catholic youth from 20 countries across the continent.

"Many Chinese youth told us they wanted to come but they did not manage to get permission from the authorities," said the cardinal. He did not want to supply the names of the provinces implicated but said that around 60 youth had managed to come "disguised" as tourists.

The bishop of Infanta (Philippines), Mgr Roland Joven Tria Tirona, chairman of the youth commission of the Asian Bishops Conference – that organized the event together with the diocese of Hong Kong – praised the "courage and generosity of Cardinal Zen" who was hosting the Day.

He said: "Every time we organize this meeting, we realize that half the Asian population is made of youth and that these do not merely live off technology and indifference. Asian Youth Day looks upon these youth as a father looks upon his children and tells them, 'you are precious to me, I believe in you'.

The cardinal said: "It's very sad that government officials spoilt this opportunity for exchange, because this event is of a spiritual not a political nature". In any case, the diocese led by him "helped some youth by giving the funds necessary for the territory's hospitality".

Despite the ban, around 30 Catholic youth from China did manage to come to attend the Day events. A university student from Hebei presented her request for permission together with another four people, but only hers was approved.

She said: "I gave 'sightseeing' as the purpose of her visit. My friends mentioned the function here and their applications were rejected." Yang, who comes from Hunan, used the same approach: "We applied in groups of three or four, saying we wanted to go for tourism to make us look less suspicious."

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