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Cardinal Tong expresses cautious optimism on China


ROME (UCAN): On November 6, the eve of the Communist Party National Congress which will usher in a once in a decade change of leadership in the world’s most populous country, the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, told the Vatican Insider that he does not expect too much from the change.

Nevertheless, he said that he remains optimistic that relations between Beijing and the Holy See will improve in the long run.

“The Communist government is a collective leadership. Even if the incoming president wants to change things, he won’t be able to make drastic changes, only step by step,” Cardinal Tong said in Rome.

Cardinal Tong added he is convinced that deeply conflicting relations between Beijing and the Catholic Church will improve, as it is in the government’s interest.

“The more freedom they give to the Church, the better reputation the Chinese government will enjoy at an international level,” he said, adding that Chinese Catholics “will serve better and contribute to their homeland.”

The cardinal called it a win-win situation. “The people win, the government wins and the Church wins. So why not? If they are good businesspeople, they should do it.”

The bishop of Hong Kong believes that as Chinese people become richer and enjoy more freedom—to travel, to start businesses, to be informed through the Internet—they will also have higher expectations regarding the central authorities and this will include a change of attitude towards the Church.

“They come as tourists, even here in Rome, and their eyes are wide open. The government should be more flexible, more open to the outside world. Otherwise, it will be kicked out by the people,” Cardinal Tong continued.

He said that he believes that rising media attention on the situation of the Church in the world’s new economic powerhouse can contribute to opening the eyes of the Communist leadership.

He cited the case of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in Shanghai who has been under the media spotlight since his forced into forced seclusion after announcing he would sever his ties with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and the closure of the seminary in the city.

“I am not surprised by the solidarity (Bishop Ma) received,” said Cardinal Tong. “Shanghai is a big city, drawing the world’s attention.”

He said that he believes that the restrictions imposed on the bishop will be loosened a little in the near future and the seminaries reopened, as happened in a similar case in Hebei province.

At the same time, he warned against reducing the whole discussion of the Church in China to Bishop Ma’s case. “Dialogue cannot be avoided, we cannot just solve one case,” he said.

Cardinal Tong also spoke of the recently concluded Synod of Bishops saying that secularisation also has a positive side, as it challenges the Church to reshape its message and make it closer to the people, bringing biblical concepts back to daily life.

He admitted that Protestant Churches and some traditional Asian religions, such as Confucianism, are often way ahead of Catholicism in this regard.

“Some pastors really know how to use daily life to attract people, making biblical wisdom relevant to life. They spend a lot of time talking about the will of God in their homilies; we Catholics spend a lot of time on sacraments.”

Cardinal Tong explained that new evangelisation in Asia, with its ancient cultural traditions and multi-religious background, must focus on the evangelisation of culture, following the example of figures such as Father Matteo Ricci, and on the service it provides to the poor through the Church’s aid network.


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