Monday, June 09, 2008

Going to the Games

With 59 days to go 'til the Summer Olympics open in Beijing on 8 August, the Chinese government has extended an invitation to the leader-in-waiting of Hong Kong's Catholic community, Coadjutor Bishop John Tong Hon.

Named to succeed Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun as head of the 350,000-member church in "the world's busiest diocese" late last year, the welcome mat for Tong is being viewed as central command's approving nod to the coadjutor's intent to keep a more conciliatory stance toward the mainland's Communist regime in contrast to the tack of the cardinal:
Tong said he was honored to attend and referenced Pope Benedict's support for the games.

"Not so long ago the Holy Father expressed his blessings towards China for a successful Olympics. I will follow his good wishes and attend this joyous national event as a witness," Tong told the South China Morning Post in Monday's editions.

He will be joined on the two-day trip by the Macau Catholic diocese leader, Bishop Jose Lai Hung-seng, and other religious figures.

Tong's Beijing trip has received Cardinal Zen's support, the paper said.
The invitation is but the latest sign of warming ties between Beijing and the Vatican, following the latter's approval of several episcopal ordinations by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association -- the state-run "official church" -- and last month's performance for Pope Benedict by the China Philharmonic Orchestra as part of its European tour.

Last week's anniversary of the 1989 Tienanmen Square demonstrations saw Hong Kong host its annual rally and vigil for mainland democracy, with a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands in attendance.

PHOTO: Getty Images