Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 3, 2006
New Hong Kong cardinal exudes courage
Valiant cardinal serves as a bridge between the Vatican and China
By LOUIS K. HO
Special to the WCR
Among the 15 new cardinals recently appointed by Pope Benedict XVI, one seems rather obscure to us in the West. He is Joseph Ze-kun Zen, bishop for the Church in Hong Kong.
Zen is well known for his enormous fights for social justice in defiance of a communist government, and his defence of religious freedom for the people under his care.
His courageous ministry and moral leadership have made evangelization and social justice inseparable for the mission of the Church in Hong Kong.
The Diocese of Hong Kong is exemplary in providing education and social work to seven million people in this special administrative region of China. There are 327 Catholic educational institutions from kindergarten to post-secondary.
Altogether, the Church is taking care of 277,447 students. As regards social and charitable services, the Church operates 106 institutions.
In 1996 Pope John Paul II appointed Father Joseph Zen, a Salesian priest, as coadjutor bishop to assist Cardinal Wu, then the bishop of Hong Kong, to prepare the diocese for the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.
After Wu's death in 2002, Zen was consecrated immediately to the full rank of bishop of Hong Kong at the age of 70.
The Church in Hong Kong, being part of the universal Church, seemed to be bent on confrontation under the leadership of Bishop Zen.
He began to emerge as a strong follower of the teaching of Vatican II in social justice, especially the preferential option for the poor, and a great supporter of democratic movement in Hong Kong and in China.
As a result, he has drawn strong criticism from both Beijing and the local government. In his mind Zen believes that once China is on the road to democracy, all worries about the future of Hong Kong Church will dissipate.
Strong criticism from all pro-China media in Hong Kong, coupled with the displeasure from Beijing, has resulted in his being labeled "rebellious." As a result, he was banned from entering China, and thus he was cut off from any contact with the Chinese Church.
Consequently his role as a bridge between China and the Vatican has become questionable. Only recently is he allowed to enter China when invited by the Chinese authorities.
Nevertheless, Zen remains firm in his stand to promote democracy, religious freedom and social justice, particularly in his fight for the issue of the Right of Abode in Hong Kong, the right of abode-seeking children to attend schools, the defence of the canonization of Chinese saints, and justice for poor farmers at the recent World Trade Organization in December 2005.
In upholding the social teaching of the Church, Zen has risked being thrown in jail. For Zen, justice and injustice, life and death, human rights, peace and conflict are genuinely important subjects.
He is convinced that evangelization and social justice must go together. He is of the opinion that if the Church wishes to take up the role of witness, political participation is necessary to ensure human rights and the good of the underprivileged.
He shows courage in opposing governments in order to defend social justice. He is considered in Hong Kong the voice of the voiceless.
He is committed to proclaim God's reign by the practice of love, truth, justice, peace and conversion.
Gandhi is often quoted as saying that Christianity is love and justice, if Christians would only live up to it.
Cardinal Zen has set an example for the people of Hong Kong to witness the love of God and to exercise moral leadership.
(Louis Ho has just returned from an extensive study of the Church in China. A graduate of Newman Theological College (M. Div.) and of St. Stephen's College (D. Min.) he is an active member of St. Angela Merici Parish in northwest Edmonton.)