05/12/2022, 10.11
HONG KONG - CHINA
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Cardinal Zen's arrest and the new dark clouds over Hong Kong

by Gianni Criveller *

The Diocese of Hong Kong: "Concerned for his safety. We trust that we will continue to enjoy religious freedom on the basis of the Basic Law." Father Gianni Criveller, PIME missionary: "Intimidating and inhumane act: this is the business card of the new Chief Executive John Lee. After political, economic and cultural spheres now religions are being targeted."

Milan (AsiaNews) - Even after his release on bail late yesterday evening, Hong Kong civil society remains shaken by the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen along with fellow activists Margaret Ng, Hui Po-keung and Denise Ho. The Diocese of Hong Kong issued a statement today expressing concern and calling for the 90-year-old bishop emeritus to be dealt with according to justice. "The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong," the note reads, "is extremely concerned about the condition and safety of Cardinal Joseph Zen and we are offering our special prayers for him. We have always upheld the rule of law. We trust that in the future we will continue enjoying religious freedom in Hong Kong under the Basic Law. We urge the Hong Kong Police and the judicial authorities to handle Cardinal Zen's case in accordance with justice, taking into consideration our concrete human situation. As Christians, it is our firm belief that: “The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” (Ps.23:1)."

Father Gianni Criveller, is a PIME missionary and China expert, who has worked with Cardinal Zen for a long time in Hong Kong. Below we publish his commentary on the arrest and the fact that even if released on bail, the Cardinal will still have to stand trial on the basis of the infamous National Security Act.

On May 11, 2022, Cardinal Joseph Zen "the conscience of Hong Kong" was arrested. For those like me who experienced formidable years alongside the cardinal, it will remain a day of unforgettable sadness.

The cardinal is 90 years old and feels the frailty of his age. He lives modestly in the residence of the Salesians in Hong Kong, a priest among others, without the shade of luxuries and privileges. He is a brave man, the noble father of the democracy movement, the leader of an entire civic community. The arrest of Cardinal Zen is a completely political, demonstrative, intimidating and dare I say, even quite inhumane act. Can one arrest a 90-year-old man whom millions of people around the world look up to and respect?

Zen was released on bail, which is humanly a relief because we don't have to imagine him in a prison cell. But the unbearable gravity of the arrest remains: there will be a trial, hateful charges aimed at discrediting a noble and generous person. And we cannot forget that many of our democratic friends remain in prison for their ideals of freedom. The arrest came along with other prominent members of the pro-democracy movement, including three valuable women, Margaret Ng, Cyd Ho and Denise Ho.

Zen is charged with collusion with foreign forces. The indictment is based on his formal responsibility in the establishment of the "June 12" fund (612 ed.), which was created to help-with legal, financial, moral, and medical support-people injured, arrested, attacked, or threatened with violence during the democratic demonstrations that began on June 12, 2019, and ended on July 1, 2020, with the introduction of the National Security Law. The fund used to collect donations, including from abroad it is to be assumed. But it had suspended its activities after the introduction of the National Security Law. And so it is a backward application of a law that is nonetheless liberticidal.

The arrest is a terrible business card for new Chief Executive John Lee -- the man responsible for introducing a police regime in Hong Kong -- who was elected with 99 percent of the vote of the special election commission last May 8. Lee will take office only next July 1, yet it is intended to make it clear that he, or rather Beijing, is already in charge. This resounding arrest (we are still talking about a cardinal) I think also has something of a spitefulness to Carrie Lam, the disastrous governor who preceded him, but who shares the same Catholic faith with Zen.

Since 2003 Zen has been called the "conscience of Hong Kong": a leader in a city that has sought for itself a path to freedom and democracy, as moreover provided for in the Basic Law that governs Hong Kong. We have seen him with the people on the streets, in the squares, in the prisons, in Victoria Park--a shepherd alongside the people. Millions of citizens took to the streets in Hong Kong, and Zen with them, among them, in front of them. A movement of people, of young people, of people demanding to be free, to be protagonists of their own destiny.

South Korea had Cardinal Stephen Kim: the father of the motherland who saved the country from military power by welcoming protesters threatened by police into the cathedral (1987). The Philippines had Cardinal Jaime Sin, who called the people to defend Cory Aquino who was elected president instead of dictator Ferdinand Marcos (1986). Hong Kong has Cardinal Zen: "the conscience of Hong Kong."

Zen's arrest thickens more ominous black clouds over Hong Kong. It cannot get any better in the coming months and years. It will get much worse before it gets better. The pattern of progressive control by the regime had already been implemented in China: first eliminate political enemies; then economic enemies; then cultural enemies; and finally religions. Even more difficult months and years await the Catholic Church in Hong Kong. For some bloody historical determination the wonderful people of Hong Kong will not be able to live in freedom and democracy.

PIME missionary and China expert

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