Monday, February 11, 2008

Heir of Hong Kong: "I'll Hold My Tong"

It was a celebration in Hong Kong yesterday as Bishop John Tong Hon took up his mandate as coadjutor to the city's shepherd, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.

Hong Kong's longtime vicar-general and its auxiliary since 1996, 68 year-old Tong (above left, with Zen) was named the "special administrative region's" ordinary-in-waiting late last month. In his first high-profile remarks since the appointment, local reports indicated that, in keeping with B16's China strategy, Tong's ascent would see a tonedown of Zen's outspoken stance on Mainland Affairs:
Tong Hon said he would like to be a "bridge" between the Holy See and Beijing. He would be prepared to be flexible but would stick to Vatican principles.

"The principles are there. But there is some degree of freedom on how to interpret the principles or how to materialise them. I will not say if it is a milder approach or not. It all depends on how other people view it," he said.

"But we should also hold up justice. We should endorse what is right and criticise what is wrong. We cannot scarify the principles in exchange for better relations."...

Bishop Tong is an expert on the Chinese church and runs the Holy Spirit Study Centre, a research institute whose primary task is to gather and analyse information about the church in China....

The appointment has... raised concerns that the diocese might soften its stance on democracy while seeking to smooth Sino-Vatican relations.

Bishop Tong hinted yesterday that he would not be as outspoken as Cardinal Zen on Hong Kong politics.

Cardinal Zen has been a strong voice in support of local democracy. Last year he took the unprecedented step of joining a march for universal suffrage in 2012.

Bishop Tong declined to discuss his political stance yesterday but said: "There are many talents in the church. It is not for one single bishop to speak up all the time ... my role is to play as a bridge."
Given the red hat by Pope Benedict in 2006, Zen turned 76 in January. A key player in Sino-Vatican relations, the Salesian cardinal's forceful advocacy of democracy in the former British colony once led to his dubbing as the "Viagra of Hong Kong."

PHOTO: South China Morning Post