CEBU CITY—Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong protested the communist persecution of Christians in China and urged delegates to the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) here to condemn it as much as they condemned Christian persecution in the Middle East.
“We should pray for the Christians of the Middle East and (North) Africa,” said Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong. “But don’t forget the Christians in China. They are still in deep water and burning fire.”
Zen is among some 13,000 delegates from 71 countries to the IEC, a spiritual festival held by the Catholic Church every four years centered on the Holy Eucharist or Holy Mass, referring to both the liturgy memorializing Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, death and resurrection that Catholics celebrate every Sunday, and the Host or bread meant to represent the body and blood of Christ that they consume during the Mass.
Zen, 84, is known for tangling with the communist authorities and has often been compared to the late archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Jaime Sin, who led the two internationally acclaimed “people power” revolutions that ousted presidents Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2000.
Pictured: Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma
Philippines: Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma celebrated the opening Mass of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu City in Plaza Independencia on January 24, 2016 — and presented the Book of Gospels given by Pope Francis as his gift for the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu City. (MB Juan Carlo de Vela)
Now retired, Zen recently earned the ire of the communists for calling for full democracy for Hong Kong, a special administrative region that enjoys autonomy from Beijing.
Sin, himself of Chinese ancestry, was invited by communist authorities in 1984 to make a sentimental visit to his ancestors’ village in Xiamen.
Offering a “testimony” to the delegates, Zen lamented the deteriorating relations between China and the Catholic Church, which seemed to contrast with his claim 10 years ago during a synod of bishops in Rome that the situation was on the way to “normalization.”
Zen cited the case of Bishop Cosma Shi Enxiang who had been imprisoned for 60 years by the communists and who reportedly died last February at age 94.
Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian
He said the family of Shi was informed by a local party boss of the death, but this was later denied by higher authorities who said the official was “drunk.”
Zen likewise cited the case of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daquin who was appointed by communist authorities as bishop of Shanghai, but who was put in prison when he renounced the Catholic Patriotic Association and declared his loyalty to Rome.
Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daquin
A Salesian religious, Zen said he came from Shanghai and was in Hong Kong for his seminary formation when the communists took over in 1949.
“We became a silent Church,” said Zen. “But we have not been silenced.”
English friar Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, a best-selling spiritual writer and former master-general of the influential Dominican order, praised Zen.
“I was extraordinarily moved by the testimony of Cardinal Zen,” Radcliffe told the IEC delegates, and he later talked about the Christians persecuted in the Middle East.
Tackling how belief in the Holy Eucharist could foster hope, Radcliffe told the IEC delegates that during the Last Supper, Christ gathered a “dispersed community” of apostles who would later betray, deny or abandon him.
He said that despite their abandonment of Christ, the apostles later rallied around him because they were filled with hope.
“So we always gather in extraordinary hope,” said Radcliffe. “So don’t be afraid of crises.”
The Rev. Peter Pang Wenxian holds the Bible above his head at morning Mass in Beijing at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Jonah M. Kessel/For The Washington Post
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