Cardinal Zen’s arrest keeps people scared

Chinese Catholics fear worse

Catholics from mainland China fear the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen in Hong Kong is an act of intimidation and a sign of hardening attitudes by authorities.

Cardinal Zen, 90, is one of four people detained for being associated with a now-defunct fund that helped protesters in financial need.

The fund was set up to offer legal advice, psychological counselling and emergency financial aid to those injured, arrested or jailed for their involvement in the mass pro-democracy demonstrations that swept Hong Kong in 2019.

Zen became the bishop of Hong Kong in 2002, a post he held until his retirement in 2009.

As bishop emeritus, Zen has been an outspoken voice as both a strong supporter of democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong. He has also been a fierce critic of the Vatican’s provisional agreement with Chinese authorities signed in 2018.

“It’s a way to keep people in fear,” Peter (not his real name), a Chinese Catholic, said of  Zen’s arrest.

Peter said that he saw the election of John Lee as the new Hong Kong chief executive on May 8 as a key reason behind the arrest of the 90-year-old Catholic cardinal and others.

He suggested it was a gesture from Lee “that shows that he’s loyal to the party and he’s going to be tough on forces that are against the party.”

“So [Lee] wants to demonstrate that he is loyal” to Beijing and, at the same time, that “he is a man of action,” he said. He added there is a Chinese proverb that goes something like “a new governor has to show his muscle and strength.”

“This probably foretells that in the future, Hong Kong will become less free, more controlled,” Peter said. “And the Catholic Church in Hong Kong as an organised institution will be carefully, closely watched.”

Lee is a baptised Catholic who formerly served as Hong Kong’s security chief and “played a leading role in the crackdown on the pro-democracy protests,” according to the Eurasia Group.

Lee will officially begin his five-year term on July 1, succeeding Carrie Lam, another Catholic, who held the post since 2017.

Other Chinese Catholics have expressed both fear and sadness at Zen’s arrest.

“Cardinal Zen is known as a voice of truth,” another anonymous Chinese Catholic told CNA.

The source said that the cardinal was seen as someone unafraid to share what is happening to the Catholic community rather than “repeating what someone else has told him to say.”


Catholic News Agency

Catholic News Service

The Australian


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