LONDON- Westminster Cathedral Hall was packed Saturday with Catholics eager to hear of the experiences of the persecuted church in China firsthand from one of most fearlessly outspoken voices on the issue, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the Bishop of Hong Kong.
In his bold account, Cardinal Zen told of the daily persecution faced not only by the Underground Church in China but also of the official China Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
He said the relationship between the Catholic Church in Hong Kong and the Chinese government was "a very difficult one". "But compared to mainland China, we are really lucky," he told listeners.
"The Communist Regime is afraid of any contact that is not under their control."
Cardinal Zen expressed anger as he described how the constant supervision and intervention of the government meant that the individual churches were not controlled by the bishops but rather by the selected lay persons who were used as "instruments of the government" within the congregations, he said.
"That is a humiliation to our bishops," he said, before going on to refer to the earlier incident when bishops invited by the Pope to join the Synod were refused permission by the Chinese government.
"If they really understood how the Catholic Church is in the world, they would have no fear of the Catholic Church. The Church in China is such a small minority so why should they be afraid," he said. In an earlier ACN press conference, Cardinal Zen stressed that the Church in China is "in no way a threat to the state".
The Bishop of Hong Kong went on to mention the ordinations of two bishops by the CCPA without Vatican approval earlier in the year. If this was an attempt by the Chinese government to ensure the loyalty of the bishops only to itself, then it had "failed", Cardinal Zen reassured, as he stressed that the bishops involved "in their heart don’t feel assured as they know it is wrong" and are now seeking forgiveness from the Holy See.
Cardinal Zen expressed hope, however, in the interest that has rekindled within the Chinese government in relations with the Holy See since the death of John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict.
He also spoke positively of the recent invitation from the Chinese Church for a delegation to come from the Holy See – the first such invitation in years.
"We have to trust the Divine Providence. So even after half a century we accept whatever happens because surely it is by Divine Providence."
Cardinal Zen also pointed to the lessons that had to be learned from this painful and protracted experience, however.
"We need to be more generous and care more for society...so we can defend our faith and defend our culture...so people come back from their secularism.
"Let them realise it is not possible. Without God there is no love. Only hatred," he said at the sold-out event.
Cardinal Zen gave special thanks to ACN, saying, "ACN is not only helping financially those in need but they are encouraging them to be faithful and helping us to be faithful."
ACN continues to play a vital role in aiding the persecuted Catholic Church around the world. The organisation provided 1.7 million euros of aid to the Church in China last year alone and has printed almost 250,000 of its Child’s Bibles in Chinese.
ACN’s Head of Press and Information, John Pontifex, also revealed the harsh reality faced by the Christian community in Pakistan, which although a minority in the country, remains sizeable in terms of population – around 1.1 million or equivalent to the UK’s own practising Catholic population.
"But their numbers make no difference to their social status; they have no social status," he said.
Mr Pontifex, who was in the country during the backlash against the Prophet Mohammad cartoons, said that in a country where being Muslim is a prerequisite for employment, Christians in Pakistan remain "uneducated, discriminated against and generally unwanted".