01/06/2012, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA - VATICAN
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Cardinal-designate John Tong: a confirmation of HK’s role as "bridge" between Beijing & Vatican

by Annie Lam
Hopes of mending relations between China and the Vatican, at a historical low in recent decades. But John Tong is also "a man of principles," just like Cardinal. Zen.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Church-in-China observers find the cardinal appointment of Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong a further recognition of the diocese as a bridge Church in the China-Vatican relation. He is the third Chinese bishop of Hong Kong appointed to this position, following on from the late Card. John Baptist Wu and Card. Joseph Zen.

Bishop Tong, 72, is a veteran expert on the China-Vatican relations. He was ordained bishop on Dec. 9, 1996, appointed coadjutor bishop on Jan. 30, 2008 and installed bishop of Hong Kong on April 15, 2009. His priestly ordination was on Jan. 6, 1966, also on Epiphany Day, same day as this papal announcement of the new cardinals.

Bishop Tong will be the only Chinese cardinal eligible to elect a new pope, should there be a conclave. Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong, emeritus bishop, will turn 80 on Jan. 13, and therefore cannot vote due to the age limit. Cardinal Paul Shan of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, also retired, is now 90 years old.

Father Gianni Criveller of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, a scholar on Christianity in China, told AsiaNews that it is good news for the Hong Kong diocese as it shows its importance in relation to China and the Holy See.

“Definitely both China and the Holy See will be pleased to have Bishop Tong dealing with China-Vatican relations, partly because of his softness and accommodating attitudes,” Father Criveller said.

He said he was not sure whether this appointment will have a significant impact on solving prickly issues of China-Vatican relations, since Bishop Tong stands for the principles of the Church, just as Cardinal Zen does.

On normalizing relations between the Holy See and China, he added, “one should not overdo the importance of the role of Hong Kong, since all decisions are made in Rome. Hong Kong is a Bridge Church and a meeting point for the two sides,” he said.

Kwun Ping-hung, an observer on China-Vatican relations, told AsiaNews that the appointment of a cardinal from Hong Kong certainly reiterates the role of Hong Kong in the China-Vatican relations and the Church in China.

This appointment can be viewed as the Holy See’s “release of sincere gesture to Chinese side” despite the recent happenings since the end of 2010 that have drawn the China-Vatican relations to the lowest.

Kwun hopes the appointment of a new Chinese cardinal may help to solve the present deadlock of the Holy See and China relations.

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