Friday, April 17, 2009

In Hong Kong, Holding His Tong

On Wednesday, the Pope accepted the age-induced resignation of the "Viagra of Hong Kong" -- the city's bishop, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who's gained global recognition for his "stout" offensive in favor of greater religious freedoms in mainland China.

Completing a transition begun early last year, the 77 year-old cardinal was immediately succeeded by his coadjutor, Bishop John Tong Hon, who's been perceived as a more diplomatic voice and, ergo, one more amenable to the leadership in Beijing, whose goodwill is a crucial priority for B16 & Co.

At his first meeting with the Hong Kong press following his accession, the new head of the "world's busiest diocese" -- who, in a sign of the authorities' favor, was invited to and attended last summer's opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics -- put his moderate line in the spotlight:
Tong said he would not take part in the annual June 4 vigil to commemorate those killed after pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago, a key issue for his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Zen.

"We will spare no effort... in our role as a bridge Church to the Church in our motherland," Tong told reporters at his first press conference....

"(We will spare no effort) to promote unity among the different groups of the Catholic Church in the mainland, and to see them enjoy full religious freedom as early as possible, so that they can make greater contributions to society."

Zen was a staunch advocate for universal suffrage, taking part in marches on the issue and criticising the slow pace of political reform in mainland China.

He was also a long-time critic of China's restrictions on religious freedom and fought for the vindication for those killed in the 1989 crackdown on democracy protests in Beijing that left hundreds, possibly thousands, dead.

Tong said he would speak out on issues "in the case of clear and gross injustice". He said he would encourage Catholics to participate in politics, but added clergy should not be "captivated by political ideologies and parties" because of their "limited time and energy".
Given precedent, Tong will likely be elevated to the College of Cardinals after Zen reaches his 80th birthday, when the latter becomes ineligible to vote in a conclave.

In his Easter farewell to the post, the cardinal took a parting shot at one of his parishioners -- Hong Kong's Beijing-appointed chief executive Donald Tsang -- voicing his hope that the overseer "would have the 'wisdom' to create a society where there would 'no longer be an ugly trend of toadying to the powerful while despising the weak.'

"China affairs, June 4, will be the matters I will continue to care about," Zen said at a press conference.

PHOTO: Getty Images