Catholic World News News Feature
China demands religious freedom, cardinal says May 30, 2006
The people of China are yearning for freedom, particularly religious freedom, says Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun of Hong Kong.
Cardinal Zen, who is in Italy for a pilgrimage, told the Italian daily La Stampa that "democracy is indissolubly linked to the defense of the weakest groups in society, to the search for an equal society." That should be the goal of China today, he said.
Questioned about the three bishops who were ordained for the "official" Catholic Church in China earlier this month, without the consent of the Vatican, Cardinal Zen said that he did not think the government was reacting against Pope Benedict's decision to make him a cardinal. Such a reaction, he said, would be "disproportionate."
The real purpose of defying the Vatican, the Chinese cardinal suggested, was the government's desire to test the Catholic Church, and to impose its own authority. "Personally, I think it was a test of strength," he said.
Cardinal Zen explained that the government is worried by the loyalty that Chinese Catholics have toward the Holy See. He pointed out that "85% of the bishops of the 'official' Church have asked for and obtained recognition from Rome." Hoping to weaken those bonds, the government has installed its own favored clergymen as bishops in the illicit ceremonies earlier in May. The cardinal added that "unjust pressures" were placed on Catholics to participate in the ordination ceremonies and recognize the authority of the government-appointed bishops. Many Catholics, he said, "did not have a lot of choice."
The general question of religious freedom is a key test for democracy in China, the cardinal said. The ambitions of the Chinese people, he added, are like those of men elsewhere: "We are asking for freedom and democracy, because the Chinese citizens should be able to choose their own faith," he said.
Cardinal Zen came to Italy to visit the tomb of Bishop Michele Alberto Arduino, a Salesian missionary who spent much of his life in China before becoming Bishop of Lacri Gerace, in southern Italy, in 1962; he died in 1972. The Chinese prelate will be speaking at a conference on the Church in China, and presiding at a prayer vigil for the faithful facing oppression there.