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New Hong Kong Cardinal Urges Beijing to Change in Religious Freedom Stance

The outspoken newly appointed Hong Kong Cardinal made first step to urge Beijing to change its stance on religious freedom issue, despite China’s critics of his 'political' interference.
( [email protected] ) Mar 01, 2006 06:13 PM EST

The outspoken newly appointed Hong Kong Cardinal made first step to urge Beijing to change its stance on religious freedom issue, despite China’s critics of his "political" interference.

On Feb. 28, the Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong Joseph Zen visited Rome, where he was interviewed by the Associated Press (AP). Zen said that China's communist government needs to overcome "old prejudices" toward the Roman Catholic Church for the Vatican to make a breakthrough in forging relations with Beijing.

Zen explained that "old prejudices" has led to the problems of religious freedom, calling it "possible" that China and the Vatican could resolve their differences in time for the Summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, according to AP.

"We know they have no reason to be afraid of religion," Zen said.

Last Friday, Zen was criticized by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao for "interfering with politics" at the position of a religious figure. Yet Zen expressed his hope for his prospect, insisting that there was "no harsh reaction" from China to his appointment, according to AP.

Benedict XVI has pledged to recover the tie between the Vatican and China since he became pope in April 2005. As the Pope attempts to bring back underground Catholics under the Vatican’s wing and demand more religious freedom in China, the Beijing government has showed reluctance to continue the dialogue.

Zen is known for his willingness and boldness to challenge the Chinese Communist Party on many issues, particularly religious freedom, both in Hong Kong and on the mainland. As one of the 14 other prelates named by Pope Benedict XVI as Vatican’s cardinal, many expected Zen’s appointment may renew the relationship between China and Vatican, which is now in deadlock.

Zen also confirmed that he will continue to speak up for social injustice and religious freedom, as quoted by AP as saying, "If the pope can do it for the whole world, I can do it for Hong Kong."