The Grand Master of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre - Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, who lived in Hong Kong for eight years - has released a testimony in defence of the 90-year-old bishop emeritus whose trial is expected to begin. "China and the Church have in him a devoted son, one not to be ashamed of," he said. "He claims the freedom that every authentic political and civil system should defend".
Rome (AsiaNews) - "Card. Zen should not be condemned. Hong Kong, China and the Church have in him a devoted son, one not to be ashamed of. This is testimony to the truth," writes Card. Fernando Filoni, Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and today Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, in an open letter published today from Rome.
The letter arrives at the beginning of the trial of Card. Zen Ze-kiun, the 90-year-old bishop emeritus, who is being tried together with five other pro-democracy figures on charges of failing to properly register a humanitarian fund of which they were trustees. The affair has become a symbol in a city where - as we recalled yesterday - there are more than 1,000 people in prison or on trial for political charges.
Card. Filoni writes: 'When on trial, he who can speak, speaks'. Jesus too did not shy away from this in a trial that would mark the history and life of a man who aroused admiration and deep religious respect: John the Baptist. Jesus too paid for his testimony to the truth: 'What is truth?' Pilate asked him ironically in a dramatic trial in which the Nazarene was accused of violating the sovereignty of Rome and on the verge of being sentenced to death. Another trial is being held these days. In Hong Kong. A city that I loved very much, having lived there for over eight years'.
The reference is to the years when Filoni was sent by the Holy See to Hong Kong in 1992 with the task of opening a Study Mission to closely follow the situation of the Church in China. "There I met Father Joseph Zen Ze-kiun," the cardinal recalls, "He was the Provincial of the Salesians. A Chinese man in everyway. Very intelligent, sharp, with a captivating smile. They used to say to me: 'He's a Shanghai man! Gradually I understood the meaning'. Filoni recalls his contribution to the encounter of cultures, while remaining fully Chinese - 'he never denied his identity'. He likens him in this to two figures such as the great Ming-era intellectual Xu Guangqi and the Jesuit bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, both from Shanghai.
He then recalls how this was "a city of martyrs at the time of the Nazi-style occupation by the Japanese", of whose violence Card. Zen's own family was a victim, to the point of being forced to flee, losing everything.
"The young Zen," comments Filoni, "never forgot that experience and drew from it consistency of character and lifestyle; and then a great love for freedom and justice. Shanghai was heroic, and his sons were considered heroes, almost untouchable even by the communist regime. Card. Zen is one of the last epigones of those families. Heroes were never to be humiliated; it was also the mentality of the Chinese establishment, as it is in the West for the victims of our own Nazi-fascism'.
Filoni then recalls the years in which the cardinal now on trial taught in seminaries in mainland China, accepting the invitation of Bishop Jin Luxian: "He accepted for the good of the Church, a martyr," he comments, "who rose from his martyrdom and sought the path of survival; this was flexibility, not yielding. He looked ahead and did not enter into judgement towards people: it was his philosophy of life,' he said, 'political systemscan be judged, and his thinking on them was clear, but people cannot; the judgement is deferred to God who knows the hearts of men. His respect and support for the person has always been the cornerstone of his human and priestly vision, and so it remains to this day, even if he is being brought to trial in Hong Kong these days'.
He cites his 'moral and ideal integrity', which prompted John Paul II to appoint him bishop and Benedict XVI cardinal. "Some people consider him to be characteristically a little edgy," Filoni notes. "And who would not be so in the face of injustice and in the face of the demand for freedom that every authentic political and civil system should defend?
"I must testify to two more things," adds the Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, "Card. Zen is a 'man of God'; sometimes intemperate, but submissive to the love of Christ, who wanted him to be his priest, deeply in love, like Don Bosco, with youth. This made him a credible teacher. He is 'authentically Chinese'. No one, among those I have known, I can say is as truly 'loyal' as he is".
"Hence - concludes Filoni - this testimony that 'in a trial is fundamental. Card. Zen should not be condemned. Hong Kong, China and the Church have in him a devoted son, one they should not be ashamed of. This is testimony to the truth'.