Church Will Lose Everything in ‘Conversation’ With China
An interview with Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun

We asked Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun about the Vatican’s appeasement towards the Chinese government. Cardinal Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong, is often described as “the new conscience of Hong Kong” for speaking up against religious persecution carried out by the Chinese government.

Interviewer: Hanako Cho

Joseph Zen Ze-kiun

Zen was born in 1932 in Shanghai, China. He came to Hong Kong in 1948. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1961 and served as the bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 through 2009. Since being named a cardinal in 2006, he has come to be known as “the new conscience of Hong Kong” after serving a leadership role in the Umbrella Revolution.


—Could you describe what’s happening with Catholicism in mainland China?

Cardinal Zen: In the government-controlled church, there are many ‘bad’ bishops, who are slaves of the communist, running an independent, ‘schismatic’ church. And the underground church now faces harsher persecution than before. Two years ago (before the Vatican-China agreement signed in 2018), underground churches (buildings) in several places were tolerated, as well as masses in private homes; but now, no more. They have demolished the churches and arrested the people. In both official and underground churches, young people under the age of 18 can no longer be allowed to enter the churches or take part in religious activities.

Since June of last year, the Holy See has been encouraging bishops and priests to join the Patriotic Association which is the independent, ‘schismatic’ church”! Incredible!

The problem is that the Chinese government is trying to bring all churches under government control. Unlike democratic nations, China is trying to make its churches into yet another government agency. This is the similar to the Nazis or Soviets of totalitarian nations who brought all churches under their control.


Pope has High Sympathy for Communism

—Do you believe Pope Francis should act similarly to Pope Saint John Paul II from Poland to end China’s totalitarian regime?

Cardinal Zen: Pope Francis is different from Pope Saint John Paul II, who committed himself to end the Cold War, and from former Pope Benedict XVI. They physically experienced totalitarianism under the Nazi’s and Soviets. On the other hand, Pope Francis is from South America. Communists there who act as voices for the poor people are suppressed under a military regime, so I think Pope Francis has sympathy for communism. A totalitarian regime never accepts compromise. They simply want you to surrender.

In China, however, communists are persecuting the church. The Pope doesn’t understand these differences, so he believes a ‘conversation’ with China will provide a solution. He has to remember that former Pope Benedict XVI has argued, ‘People shouldn’t join state-approved churches to ensure that underground churches don’t go under government rule and lose true faith.’

Pope Francis’ policy isn’t quite coming from himself, but more from his close adviser, Vatican Secretary of State [Cardinal] Pietro Parolin.

I don’t believe that holding a conversation with China will make things right. China will win, and we will lose everything. The Pope may have good intentions, but he is doing the wrong thing.

—What’s the situation in Hong Kong after the new national security law was passed?

Cardinal Zen: The situation radically changed; there are no more one country two systems. Nowadays, speaking out on something, not just acting on them, can be considered to break China’s efforts to maintain law and order in Hong Kong. Anyone, including myself, can be arrested and charged with sedition at any time. Still, we must continue to speak out against China’s way of doing things.

—Do you have a message for the people of Japan?

Cardinal Zen: Misinformation is spread around, so it is important that the correct information is received by people who wish to realize what is good. I would like the people of Japan to understand what’s going on in China and pray for God to point the world in the right direction.

Church Will Lose Everything in ‘Conversation’ With China
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