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The year of the Horse and the Church in China

ROME (AsiaNews): “As believers, we tend to be unrepentant optimists,” the former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, said in an interview on January 27, the run up to the January 31 beginning of the Year of the Horse.

He called the new year a time of wishing things will get better in the future, but that this year, he can’t help feeling that this may not be such a good year for the Church in China.

He said that the past year did give some cause for hope, as two new leaders arrived on the world stage, Pope Francis in the Vatican and Xi Jinping in China.

He called their initial moves encouraging, even bringing hope of better things to come for the Church in China and that we may even have been led to believe that their arrival signalled a decisive turning point.

Cardinal Zen explained that he believes that Pope Benedict XVI represented a turning point for Sino-Vatican relations, as he made a paradigm shift from heroic tolerance to clarity.

In this context, Cardinal Zen believes that Pope Benedict set the stage for Pope Francis, as clarity seems to be a characteristic trademark of his papacy so far.

“A characteristic feature of our Jesuit pope is obviously a clarity blend of much kindness and tenderness, with much respect for people. But... somebody said that Pope Francis likes tango, but it takes two to tango. Can we suppose the same good will is in his counterpart (Xi)?” Cardinal Zen asked.

He noted that Xi has certainly presented himself as a reformer, fighting corruption courageously and working to set up a regime of austerity and frugality.

However, the cardinal regrets that his reforming pattern seems to be limited to the Communist Party and is aimed not at allowing more participation in government, but rather shoring up absolute domination over the people.

“There is no sign that he will allow in any way the people to control the party. Many experts believe it is too soon for him to take such a step, which could be dangerous, at least until he has the reins of the party firmly in hand. Many say that we should give him some more time,” Cardinal Zen said.

However, the cardinal warned that time may not be on Xi’s side and it may not be on the side of the Church either.

“While this, our supreme leader, takes his time, those under him carry on their work of destruction” he lamented.

Cardinal Zen reflected that he does not know what other word to use in describing what is being done to the Church by government agents and he regrets that it is not only the Church that they are damaging, but the good name of the nation as well.

“With the power position they have acquired in dealing with religions, they are destroying not only the religions but also the good name of our nation,” he lamented.

He pointed to the honorary president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, whom he described as still remaining highly active up and down the country, as well as the director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, who he described as being more and more ostentatious about the fact that his organisation is running the Church.

“It does not even care about appearances,” he commented.

He described the purpose of their work as being to enslave the Church.

He said that this is being done by forcing bishops and priests to betray both their consciences and their faith.

The cardinal noted that it is saddening to see people treating their own nationals in such a manner, as the bishops and priests are Chinese and so are the religious affairs officials.


Cardinal Zen concluded by asking, “Is it glorious to make slaves of their co-nationals? Is it a victory to be proud of? It is not only shameful in itself; as it brings disgrace on our nation, in spite of its newly acquired position as a financial power.”

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