Chinese Christians have seen hope in the religious freedom of China’s Catholic Church as the Bishop of Hong Kong is just newly installed as cardinal at Vatican.
On Friday, Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun joined the ceremony at St Peter's Basilica along with another 14 priests from all around the world. He received blessings from Pope Benedict XVI under the witness of thousands, including a few hundreds of Catholics from Hong Kong and Italy’s Chinese community, according to Reuters.
The 74-year-old bishop is known for his willingness to challenge the religious freedom in China. He has also been very outspoken in pushing for greater democracy and universal suffrage in Hong Kong. While the diplomatic dialogue between the Vatican and China remains in deadlock, many consider the appointment of Zen may renew the relationship. However, the Chinese government becomes very sensitive on the issue and criticizes that "was a hostile act against China."
Since 1951, shortly after the officially atheistic Communist Party took power in China, Roman Catholics on the mainland were forced to cut ties with the Vatican. Worship is now allowed only in government-controlled churches.
Meanwhile, most Chinese Catholics apparently responded to the appointment of Zen in a positive way, including those underground Catholics in the mainland, according to the Vatican-affiliated Italy-based news agency AsiaNews.
An anonymous underground priest in northern China told AsiaNews that Catholics were rejoiced over Zen’s appointment. He added, "As a priest and bishop, Cardinal Zen is a role model, eager to defend freedom of religion for the Church and a friend of the Chinese people."
Another anonymous official bishop commented Zen a "bridge between China and the Vatican" and he can "make Beijing understand the spiritual needs of the Church and make the Vatican understand the Chinese mentality," AsiaNews reported.
Sources say Zen is among those who know best both the official and underground Church in China, where he taught for many years when he was still a priest. Under the existing religious law in China, churches that are loyal to the Pope are prohibited and are often subjected to persecution and harassment. Based on Vatican’s estimation, underground church has around 10 million.
During the ceremony in Rome Friday, a prayer read out in Chinese remembered "all those who still suffer for their Christian faith" and that they would soon see the fruit of their suffering, according to Reuters.
Zen reflected upon his installment as speaking to Reuters in Rome, "Maybe I can explain to both sides how things really are, explain to the Holy See how China is and explain to China what the Church is all about."
"That is what I hope to be able to do. I am very hopeful."