10/04/2006, 00.00
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Underground and official Church are persecuted in China, says Cardinal Zen

The bishop of Hong Kong said that unlawfully-ordained bishops have asked the Pope for forgiveness.

London (AsiaNews/ACN) – Cardinal Joseph Zen said that in China there is a Church that is faithful to the Pope, one that is patient despite the enduring sufferings inflicted and control exerted by the Chinese government. For the bishop of Hong Kong, both wings of the Church are united by the oppression they endure. In his opinion both 'underground' and official Church are persecuted.

Cardinal Zen recently attended a conference on the 'Church in China' organised by the British branch of the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Westminster Cathedral.

During the event a book titled Persecuted and forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their faith 2005-2006 was released to the public. The report focuses on cases in which the Church suffers persecution and is inspired by the 2006 Report on religious freedom in the world published by the ACN's Italian section, with which AsiaNews collaborates.

According to Cardinal Zen, the official Church is almost entirely reconciled with the Pope despite Beijing's abuses. With about 85 per cent of the official Church's bishops now approved by Rome, Catholics' loyalty to Rome had prevailed over every attempt to divide it.

"The bishops (of the official Church) will not accept ordination without the approval of the Holy See. The government can do nothing about that," he said.

Back on April 30 and May 3, two bishops were unlawfully ordained in Kunming and Wuhu. The Vatican condemned the action as a gross violation of religious freedom, accusing Beijing of lying to the bishops in order to get them to agree.

Still, Bishop Zen said, even these recent unlawful ordinations have not weakened the desire for dialogue and unity with the Pope.

The bishops in question, who were tricked by the Patriotic Association, sought in fact the Pope's forgiveness right away.

In the end, both the underground and official Church are united by the oppression they suffer, a situation that in some ways has worsened recently.

"In China, there is persecution—not only of the so-called underground Church but also of the official Church," he said. "Yes, we see that there are many churches open for worship, that the seminaries are full. But what we cannot see is the control exerted by the government," he explained.

The prelate called on the authorities to relax their tight grip on the Church. "If the government understood the role of the Church," he stressed, "they would realise they have nothing to fear.  They need to know religion can contribute to the education, economic development and progress in China".

In thanking the ACN for its support to the Church in China, he said: "You are encouraging the Chinese people to be faithful. But they help us to be faithful too."

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