08/12/2008, 00.00
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Hong Kong bishop Tong in Beijing for Games, without meeting city's bishop

A visit to the bishop of Beijing was judged as "inconvenient". Beijing must work harder to improve the life of the population, including from the spiritual point of view, beyond the moment of the Olympics.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Bishop John Tong, coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong, says he is content to have attended the opening ceremony for the Olympics, but hopes that the government will above all improve the daily lives of the Chinese, beyond the most prominent events; and he is disappointed not to have had the chance to meet the bishop of Beijing. His request met with the reply that the encounter would be "inconvenient".

Bishop John Tong Hon, 69, is one of the many religious authorities who were invited to attend the solemn opening ceremony at the "Bird's Nest" stadium last August 8. The invitation was issued by the office for relations between Hong Kong and China, a sort of Chinese consulate in the territory, but also involved the office of religious affairs in Beijing.

Bishop Tong tells AsiaNews that "I wanted to take the opportunity to meet for the first time the archbishop of Beijing, Joseph Li Shan. I asked a few priests - who had studied theology in Hong Kong - if I could do this, but after some research, they replied that it would be 'inconvenient' to visit him, and that they hoped 'I would understand'. Despite this, I was at least able to greet him by telephone, although - out of fear that the line was being monitored - our conversation was a bit generic. I told him that we support him and pray for his diocese. Through those priests, I sent him a gift of two vestments for the Eucharistic celebration, as a sign of fraternity".

For Bishop Tong, "the [opening] ceremony was very beautiful, and we should congratulate the Chinese government for preparing all of this in such a solemn manner". But he adds: "as I have said a number of times, I hope that the government will make even greater efforts in other areas, because life is not just sports, medals, fanfare, material success. The people are looking for something more, they are looking for spiritual values". The coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong also points out the widespread poverty that characterizes Beijing beyond the Olympic Village. "All of these efforts [for the opening ceremony] must be addressed to values and realities more important than the glory of a moment".

Bishop Tong arrived in the Chinese capital on the morning of August 8, and had to depart the following day. The hotel reserved for him by the organization was the New Millennium, opened just a few months ago for the Games. The price is about 2,300 Hong Kong dollars (about 230 euros per night, which each guest had to pay out of his own pocket). But the hotel accepts guests only for a minimum of two nights. So Bishop Tong had to find his own accommodations, which were offered to him by a Catholic from Hong Kong who has a house in Beijing, a few minutes from the "Bird's Nest".

Various observers have seen the invitation issued to the coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong (but not to Cardinal Zen, the ordinary of the city) as a positive sign in relations between China and the Vatican. Bishop Tong comments briefly: the Vatican, he says, expressed all of its "good will" toward China, and "the ball is now in China's court".

In recent days, the pope expressed his best wishes for the Beijing Games. On the occasion of a visit to the birthplace of the missionary Saint Josef Freinademetz last August 5, he said: "China is becoming increasingly important in political, economic, and intellectual life. It is important", he added, "that this great country should open itself to the Gospel. Saint Josef Freinademetz shows us that faith is not an alienation for any culture or any people, because all cultures are waiting for Christ, and are not destroyed by the Lord, but rather come to their maturity".

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