The new Hong Kong Cardinal insists that religious freedom will be the condition for the relationship between China and the Vatican to be re-established.
On the first press conference of Cardinal Joseph Zen- the Bishop of Hong Kong- after he has elevated as cardinal in Rome last Friday, Zen once again affirmed that the Vatican is ready to build the Sino-Vatican tie and he expresses a great hope for the future.
"The opportunity for success is greater now," said Zen, according to Agence France Presse (AFP). At the same time, he hinted that the Chinese government must also change before any progress can be seen.
"I fear the Chinese side has some misconceptions about the Church," Zen was quoted by AFP as saying, "It is prejudiced and thinks we are outdated; that we are the same as we were a hundred years ago."
China cut ties with the Vatican in 1951 after the atheist Communist Party took power in 1949. Since then, Catholics in China can only go to state-sanctioned churches led by state-appointed priests. All the other churches loyal to the Vatican are considered to be underground churches.
On a major seminar in Beijing earlier this year, Jia Qinglin, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference claimed that foreigners were using religions to "infiltrate" China. Therefore, the Beijing administration has been trying to restrict the influence of foreign religious groups in China by various laws.
Under the existing law, government-authorized Patriotic Catholic Church is prohibited to recognize the authority of the Papacy in many fundamental matters of faith and morals. The Government even makes political demands on the clergy or leadership. Such regulation has jeopardized the religious freedom of Chinese citizens.
For the Vatican- China relationship to be recovered, it will highly depend on China’s willingness to open itself and grant more religious freedom, especially as the Vatican may have to forgo the diplomatic recognition with Taiwan in order to connect China.
"(The Vatican) is forced to make the decision," Zen said to AFP. "I know some people in Taiwan are disappointed with this but we know that some Taiwanese Catholics understand this matter and have accepted this."
However, Zen insisted, "Of course, most people know that in this deal the Vatican must FIRST guarantee real religious freedoms before it makes this painful decision."
"They will explain to Taiwan that there was no other way to go about it and hope Taiwan will understand this."
Zen is supported by most Chinese Catholics, including the underground Catholics in Mainland, for he has been very outspoken in criticizing the religious freedom issue. He is also committed to become a bridge between the Chinese government and the Vatican.
"I can explain to the Holy See how things are in China. I hope also to have a chance to explain to our leaders in Beijing (what) the church is because they may not have correct ideas about the church," said Zen, according to Kyodo news.
"Recently, I receive signals that I am allowed to contribute (to rebuilding ties)," Zen added. "The Pope gives me support, some people from the (Chinese) central government also welcome my participation. At least, I am optimistic for now."