03/24/2006, 00.00
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Joy in the Church, fears in Beijing over Mgr Zen's nomination as cardinal

The new prelate is a "model" for both official and underground Christians. His nomination annoys and divides China's embassy in Rome and the government in Beijing. Prayer in Chinese during the consistory ceremony for all persecuted Christians.

Rome (AsiaNews) – AsiaNews is receiving messages from China expressing good wishes and enthusiasm after Benedict XVI today conferred upon Mgr Joseph Zen, bishop of Hong Kong, the cardinal's biretta. News reports indicate however that China's government is embarrassed and fearful over the honour granted to someone many in Beijing consider a "troublemaker".

Great champion of the Church's freedom, Cardinal Zen is among those who know best both the official and underground Church in China, where he taught for many years when he was still a priest.

An underground priest in northern China told AsiaNews that "as a priest and bishop, Cardinal Zen is a role model, eager to defend freedom of religion for the Church and a friend of the Chinese people. "We are all enthusiastic and full of joy."

Although the official Church has not made any public statements over Zen's nomination, some bishops let AsiaNews know that they too are happy for the Pope's decision.

"Cardinal Zen will serve as a model for us bishops and bridge the gap between China and the Vatican. He will and make Beijing understand the spiritual needs of the Church and make the Vatican understand the Chinese mentality," said one official bishop. "It is a great honour for the Chinese people as a whole," said another.

Catholic officials fear however that if they express too many positive views, the Chinese government might harass them even more.

The Chinese government has so far not made any public statements about the appointment of a Chinese to the College of Cardinals, but pressed by reporters Chinese Foreign Minister Ma Li Zhaoxing in early March said: "Hong Kong is a Chinese province and its residents are our compatriots. China is happy to see the success of these compatriots." By contrast, Anthony Liu Bainian, Vice-President of the Patriotic Association, said that Cardinal Zen's appointment "was a hostile act against China".

Sources told AsiaNews that in the Chinese Embassy in Rome the appointment was first received with great hostility. "Within the leadership many see Mgr Zen as a troublemaker," said a Chinese close to the embassy.

By defending the Church's freedom, criticising the Patriotic Association, pushing for greater democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong, Cardinal Zen has upset the Chinese Communist Party. Still there are those within the Party who see in the new cardinal someone who can serve as a magnet that can draw the country towards political and social reforms that have become necessary for China's modernisation.

In Hong Kong where Cardinal Zen is well-known as a champion for human rights, many left work to follow the ceremony in St Peter's Square. "We are all excited by this great event," said a young woman.

A few hundreds of Catholics from Hong Kong and Italy's Chinese community attended the consistory in Rome. During the universal prayer, a woman prayed in Chinese "for all those who still suffer for their Christian faith".

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