Religious Freedom in China Is on the Verge of Annihilation: An Interview with Cardinal Joseph Zen

TungCheung /

There’s a single power source for countless Hong Kong citizens participating in protests — the existence of churches that support Christians. Liberty Web spoke with Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (former Bishop of Hong Kong) on his thoughts about the Hong Kong protests as well as the Vatican’s stance towards the Chinese government.

(Interviewer Hanako Cho)

1. What kind of support are you providing to participants of these protests?

Cardinal Joseph Zen (Zen): I am one of the trustees of an Humanitarian Relief Fund in Hong Kong and this fund has collected large sum of donations to help them. The expenses for lawyers and trials are very high, so this money is necessary.

At first, [young protesters] were afraid to ask for help. They don’t want publicity. So we found a way to help them while making sure [protesters’ private information] is confidential. Also, I think the church and these protesters are united. That’s very good.

2. What do you think is a current, crucial problem?

Zen: The police. They arrest people too easily and even when people have already stopped, they still beat them. Even the triad gangsters come out. We also suspect that the public security from China may come dressed as Hong Kong police. It’s a really dangerous situation.

I think they must absolutely set up an independent commission (one of the five demands) to investigate and inquire what really happened. Make people know who is right and who is wrong.

3. Do you think there is a possibility of the People’s Liberation Army coming in?

Zen: No. That means all the foreigners would leave, Hong Kong would lose trust as a financial center, and there would be no business anymore. Then, the big loser is China.

But now it’s worse than the Liberation Army with violence from the police and triad gangsters and Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Chinese government are encouraging the police to use force.

4. Do you feel that ideologies of the Hong Kong protests will spread to China?

That’s what the Beijing authority is afraid of. If we have democracy in Hong Kong, the people in China may say, “Oh, they have democracy in Hong Kong. Why don’t we have it?”

But really, they must realize that it’s time to introduce democracy in China as well.

But the totalitarian regime is stupid. It’s only creating corruption and people who are passive, who are used to being slaves. In order to have a dignified nation, the people must be free to have their identity.

5. You have been voicing your opinions on Christian churches in China.

Zen: The communists are always the same in terms of wanting to destroy the church. In Vietnam, Catholicism was prevalent before communism spread. When the communists came and tried to control the church, they couldn’t. Because the church is strong and people are with the church and the bishop.

Recently I have been to three communist countries: Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic. Although they are communists, they have a long history of Christian faith. So the communists could not destroy or control the church.

Communists in eastern European countries have criticized the church for being partners of rich people. China uses the pretext of imperialism and says, “The missionaries are all imperialists,” to destroy religion. This is successful because they can use people with weak faith within churches who follow the government.

Unfortunately, the Vatican thinks we have to compromise and surrender to the Chinese government. The government says people under 18 years of age can’t go into the church nor take part in religious activity, and bishops with weak faiths obey.

Over the last 15 years, the church in China went down because of the Vatican. The Vatican gives everything to the Chinese government, and they get nothing.

6. What are the problems with Vatican?

Zen: There are three problems. First, the Vatican gave the Chinese government the right to appoint bishops. The Pope can only make objections to the Chinese government’s appointed bishops but must accept what is proposed in the end.

Second, there were seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government who are illegitimate and excommunicated. Some of them even have wives and children. Now they have all been legitimized.

Lastly, it’s about the underground church. They are forced to be underground because they want to be free from the intervention of the government and protect freedom. They don’t follow the government, because the church controlled by the government is no longer a Catholic Church. Despite facing persecution, they prefer to suffer in the underground.

On June 28, a document came from the Vatican saying that underground churches must register with the government. The Vatican doesn’t appoint bishops to the underground church anymore so once the older bishop dies, there’s no successor. The church disappears. The strange thing is that it’s not signed by anybody nor is it specified which department it came from. I went to Rome to see the Pope on June 29 but I came back empty-handed. This is a problem which affects the whole church.

7. Will The same issue arise if Hong Kong is controlled by the rule of China?

Zen: We have the Basic Law and “one country, two systems” so it should not occur. But it is still very probable.

People are already saying that the next bishop [in Hong Kong] must have the blessing from Beijing. If this is true, churches in Hong Kong must surrender to churches in China.

But we believe in God. We believe in prayers, so we pray that the day will come when we all may be free.

8. What do you pray to God?

Zen: We demand that God give us light to make people understand we are human beings. We are created by God and are therefore children of God. We are all brothers and sisters. The people who have power in society must be [God’s] servants, or else we cannot enjoy our dignity and freedom. The law they’re proposing is against human dignity and freedom. So we don’t accept it.

—Thank you very much.

Religious Freedom in China Is on the Verge of Annihilation: An Interview with Cardinal Joseph Zen
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