CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Cardinal Zen fasts over what is lost 
to education and Hong Kong


HONG KONG (SE): “To show my grief, I will, for three days and three nights abstain from food, except water and holy communion,” Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun said at the conclusion of a press conference attended by around 50 members of the media at the Salesian headquarters in Chai Wan on October 19.

Saying that he fears that the loss by the diocese of the judicial review on school management in the Court of Final Appeal on October 13 may well spell the end of the ability of the Catholic Church to provide quality and effective Catholic education in the territory, the former bishop of Hong Kong said, “I do not want anyone to join this expression of grief, but I would be grateful for spiritual accompaniment through prayer during these days.”

Cardinal Zen spent three days camped under the stars in a small tent in the grounds of the Salesian house in Chai Wan where he lives, expressing his grief in the age-old biblical manner of prayer and fasting.

A continual flow of people dropped in to sit and pray awhile during his time of official grief and he was accompanied at night by long time missionary to Hong Kong Father Franco Mella, from the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions, and one of his Salesian confrères.

Students from Catholic schools in the territory came to thank him for fighting for them and people brought their small children to wish him well. On the last evening of his fast, October 21, over 300 people gathered in the grounds of the house for a prayer service in solidarity with Cardinal Zen.

“The prayer service began while he was still in his tent,” Father Gianni Criveller said. “But he came out to join us half way through. It was a touching moment and I thought of Lazarus coming out of his tomb and how there is hope so long as there is courage and life.”

The cardinal chatted with the people close to him for a few minutes, before returning to the reclining chair in his tent in which he had been praying and sleeping.

Although many people were worried about the health of the 79-year-old cardinal, Jackie Hung Ling-yu said that medical people monitored him for his heart rate and blood sugar count regularly, and he remained stable and healthy throughout.

Among his visitors were Martin Lee Chu-ming, democracy icon in Hong Kong and barrister for the diocese in the judicial reviews from the Court of First Instance through to the Court of Final Appeal; as well as Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the media tycoon whom, it has been widely reported, has gifted Cardinal Zen with some $20 million over the past six years.

A young student reflected that even though Cardinal Zen was placed under great pressure, he was calm and courageous. “He was like the shepherd under the cross,” he said, adding that even though he had not slept until 2.00am on the evening before he began his fast he had to stand up to the grilling of the press.

He questioned why the media chose to cross examine the most vulnerable person in the saga, saying he believes it is the political parties that should be questioned, adding that the cardinal lives simply in a room alongside his confrères and it is known that he has supported Chinese seminarians studying abroad and other neglected groups of people, both in China and Hong Kong.

Another pointed out in a Facebook posting that the cardinal always travels by minibus when he goes on prison visitation and rarely takes taxis, except when he is tired.

Mainland migrants to Hong Kong, for whom the cardinal used to celebrate Mass on a regular basis at the Home of Love, run by the Missionaries of Charity, paid tribute to his generosity and the tremendous support he has shown for them during their difficult time in the city.

UCA News reported one as saying, “We lived in poverty without any relatives or friends. It is fortunate that grandpa (Cardinal Zen) helped us generously. Otherwise we could not have survived.”

Prayers are also being offered for him in churches in many parts of China where his generosity has made the lives and ministries of many priests, sisters and brothers possible, as well as in seminaries where students and staff have benefitted from his care.

The cardinal stated that the generosity of the unsolicited money from Lai had made this possible, as well as allowing him to carry on his work as a cardinal and member of the Vatican China Commission.

During his fast, the cardinal was careful that nothing other than water was given to him and even used a washroom outside the house for fear someone would accuse him of cheating on his abstinence from food.

The former bishop of Hong Kong ended his fast exactly three days after he began, at 10.00am on October 22.


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