Pope Benedict XVI has considered visiting to the Communist China amid speculation that the new Hong Kong cardinal may help to improve Sino-Vatican ties.
A Hong Kong delegation was in Rome for ceremonies installing 15 new cardinals, including Hong Kong Bishop Joseph Zen. During a meeting, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who was among the delegation, invited the Pope to come to China saying, "Please come to China to bring us love and democracy," as quoted by Lai’s newspaper Apple Daily.
The Pope has responded very positively, according to various sources. The Hong Kong diocese vicar-general Father Dominic Chan, who was among those at the meeting, told the Hong Kong-based English newspaper South China Morning Post (SCMP), "The Holy Father said he wanted to come but God would decide when."
Zen, the newly installed cardinal, responded that "Hong Kong is part of China and perhaps he [the Pope] should come here as a first step," reported SCMP.
Under the sensitivity of the situation, the Vatican has not given a very clear comment on Tuesday as interviewed by the Associated Press (AP). The anonymous official said it is a well-known fact that the pope wishes to travel to China, but he could not confirm Benedict's conversation with Lai.
Zen, who is known for his boldness in challenging the Chinese government on the issue of religious freedom and democracy, has showed his commitment to become a bridge between Vatican and China by allowing each party to understand each other better. Most Chinese Catholics welcomed Zen’s installation with the hope to see a greater degree of religious freedom for Catholics in Mainland China.
Last Saturday, the Vatican's foreign minister claimed that the "time is ripe" for the Holy See and Beijing to establish diplomatic relations, sources say. However, two Taiwanese Catholic priests- Tou Chou-seng, Taiwan's ambassador to the Vatican and Cardinal Paul Suan - denied the diplomatic recognition to Beijing has been reached, insisting that "respect of human rights" and "freedom of religion" are the conditions the Holy See.
One of the remaining stumbling blocks is China's demand to have a say in the appointment of bishops, which China views as interference in its internal affairs, AP reported.
Meanwhile, given his close relationships with both official and underground Catholics in China, Zen’s elevation was celebrated by most underground Chinese Catholic leaders and mainland priest-students. Some of them have send gifts to the new cardinal, according to the largest Asian Catholic Church news agency Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN).
Speaking to UCAN, Cardinal Zen urged both the open and underground church communities in China to rest assured that the pope makes decisions beneficial for both sides.