06/09/2008, 00.00
HONG KONG - CHINA - VATICAN
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Olympics, bishop of Hong Kong invited to inaugural ceremony

The Chinese government has invited John Tong Hon, coadjutor bishop of the territory. The invitation, which was not extended to Cardinal Zen, has been accepted. Some experts describe it as "a gesture of good will", which nonetheless seems to be "only a matter of protocol".

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The Chinese government has invited the coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong, John Tong Hon, to the inaugural ceremony of the upcoming Olympic Games.  The bishop has accepted the invitation, which was not extended to Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, while an expert on China-Vatican relations warns: "The visit appears to be just a protocol event because it is unlikely any concrete discussions with officials will be conducted".

The invitation was communicated by Beijing to the Chinese office in the territory: according to some observers, this is the latest "diplomatic openness" between the two sides, following the concert at the Vatican by the Beijing Philharmonic and the informal meeting between the pope and the Chinese ambassador to the Italian republic.  Others emphasise that China "wants to build good relations with bishop Tong, who is less critical in public toward the Beijing government, and will soon become the bishop of Hong Kong".

For his part, Bishop Tong says he is "honoured by the invitation", and recalls the hopes expressed by the pope for a serene unfolding of the Olympics.  Not long ago, the prelate highlights, "the Holy Father expressed his blessings towards China for a successful Olympics. I will follow his good wishes and attend this joyous national event as a witness".

The visit - which will take place on August 8 and 9 - will be the first made by Bishop Tong to Beijing as coadjutor bishop.  Together with him, there will be Buddhist and Taoist leaders from Hong Kong, and the bishop of Macao, Jose Lai Hung-seng.  The visit has also been approved by Cardinal Zen: both bishops have for some time decided to enter into China "only at the official invitation of the government"

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, an expert in China-Vatican relations and a researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, tells the South China Morning Post: "The invitation was a gesture of good will, although Cardinal Zen, who has long been critical towards Beijing's control over religious freedom, was not invited. But the visit appears to be just a protocol event because it is unlikely any concrete discussions with officials will be conducted".

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