HONG KONG (UCAN) – Cardinal-elect Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong says that his appointment shows Pope Benedict XVI's great concern for China, and that he will offer his advice to the Holy See on China-Vatican issues.
Cardinal Zen told the press Feb. 23, the day after the pope named him one of 15 new cardinals, that he anticipated Beijing would "appreciate the goodwill of the holy father."
In Beijing Liu Jianchao, spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the media Feb. 23 that the Chinese government was aware that Bishop Zen has been appointed a cardinal.
He said the Catholic Church always advocates non-interference in politics and the Chinese government believes the Catholic sector in Hong Kong will cherish and uphold stability, development and harmony in the local society.
On the subject of relations between China and the Vatican, he noted that there is no change in China's stance.
Also in Beijing, Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, told UCA News Feb. 23 that he thinks Bishop Zen's appointment as a cardinal shows the pope's concern for China.
However, he said the China Church hopes Cardinal-elect Zen will "render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God," as Jesus says in the gospel of St. Matthew, since this would enhance the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and help advance China-Vatican relations. He added that how much the cardinal-elect would be able to help toward the normalization of diplomatic ties "depends on how he acts in the future."
Liu noted that some Catholics in the mainland see Zen's appointment as a "political consideration" of the Vatican and wonder whether the appointment will prove beneficial for China-Vatican relations.
According to Liu, the patriotic association and Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China have not decided if they will invite the new cardinal to Beijing.
He said that "under one country, two systems, the two brother-churches of China and Hong Kong should observe the principle of non-interference, non-subordination and mutual respect" in their exchanges. The principle is stated in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution that governs Hong Kong since its reversion from British to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.
Liu noted that the more cardinals in China, the better.
Cardinal-elect Zen responded that since China is a vast country, the pope would most likely appoint mainland cardinals after China and the Holy See normalize relations.
The 74-year-old prelate said that although he cannot take part in the diplomatic negotiation between Beijing and the Holy See, which mainly involve diplomatic officials from both sides, "I believe the Vatican officials would treasure our opinions, our experience in and understanding of the China church."
He expressed his hope that normalization would take place before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, but added that he thinks the Holy See's primary concern right now is the appointment of bishops for mainland dioceses with no bishop.
"Pope Benedict named me (cardinal) probably because of my experience in mainland China more than what I have done in Hong Kong," said the prelate, who had taught in mainland seminaries from 1989 until his episcopal ordination in 1996 as coadjutor bishop. He succeeded to head the diocese in 2002.
Many people are wondering about the future involvement in Hong Kong affairs of the cardinal-elect, who has been outspoken and challenged the government on issues related to human rights and education.
According to the prelate, clerics should not participate in politics of power, but they should be concerned about public affairs in the society. He said he would continue to speak for the underprivileged and voiceless as long as he remains a bishop in Hong Kong. But whether he will continue to serve as bishop, retire in 2007 or move to Rome is for the pope to decide, he added.
Auxiliary Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong told UCA News Feb. 23 that along with the appointment of a new cardinal, he hopes the Holy See will consult more and increase the resources it allocates in dealing with matters relating to the church in China, including China-Vatican issues.
The 66-year-old bishop, who is a Church-in-China expert, has confidence the appointment will not cause problems with Beijing. "The government leaders have become more open and pragmatic," he explained, adding that he expects Beijing will pursue China-Holy See relations with a broad and positive vision even if sometimes Cardinal-elect Zen's "good advice jars on the ear."
Church-in-China observer Kwun Ping-hing told UCA News Feb. 23 that the tone of the Chinese government's response was "neutral" in that it carried no congratulatory words. This shows that due to the relations between Hong Kong and the mainland, the Chinese government cannot disregard the reality of the new cardinal's appointment, added Kwun, who is not a Catholic.
"It is an appropriate response, as Beijing needs time to observe," he said.
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