Some time ago I wrote that Pope Benedict had chosen one of WDTPRS’s favorite Cardinals, His Eminence Joseph Card. Zen Ze-Kiun to write the Good Friday meditations for the Popes Station of the Cross held yearly at the Colosseum. Clearly this is a matter of great favor and importance, given how the evocative Good Friday Stations is one of the most viewed papal events of the whole year. The choice of Cardinal Zen is packed with possibilities.
To say I look forward to these meditations smacks of understatement.
Let’s have a look at a piece posted by Paolo Rodari of Il Riformista about this fascinating choice.
Here is Rodari’s article in my translation.
The Pope Realpolitick toward China passes to the Via Crucis at the Colosseum
Facts support that Benedict XVI, with his hallmark political pragmatism, values especially relations with Beijing in an attempt to safeguard as much as possible the difficult lot of the Catholic Chinese.
Beyond sending, in May of last year, a historic letter to Catholics in that country, in which for the first time important openings were made by the Holy See to Beijing and to the Church taking the governments line (in addition to this Church, in China there lives in the midst of a thousand difficulties another, underground Church), it is foreseen for the upcoming Stations of the Cross on Good Friday at the Colosseum that Benedict XVI will send beyond the Great Wall another signal worthy of note.
To pen the meditations, in fact – and this choice is obviously entirely Ratzinger’s – will be the Bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun, 76, born Yang King-pang in the Diocese of Shanghai.
Zen became bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong in 2002, after being in Hong Kong as Coadjutor since September 1996, a year before the return of the city to Chinese mainland control.
And when, on 22 February 2006, Benedict XVI announced the surprising intention to give him the Cardinal’s biretta, it was well understood that the Pope was counting on the new Cardinal to work amidst the difficult relations between the Holy See and Beijing. Zen’s words after the announcement of the Pope, in fact, demonstrate this desire: "This nomination", the Chinese Cardinal said, "is a sign of good will and of the Pope’s affection for all of China. And if I accept it, I accept it for all China. I am already nearly 75 and I was thinking to retire. Now I don’t know what will happen to me. But we stand at attention and obey our orders. Perhaps the Pope will have need for advice once in a while. There is a great deal to be done regarding China."
It is beyond question too much to say that the choice of Zen to pen the Good Friday meditations is a hand extended by the Holy See to a country that, in all ways, seeks to show to the West a democratic face (included in this attempt is also the difficult organization of the Olympics).
Still, a Chinese bishop coming after the illustrious names of Angelo Comastri (2006) and Gianfranco Ravasi (2007) offers his own reflections for one of the papal events most closely followed by the world, remains a publicity opportunity that China can in some way play with on the level of image. [In other words, China has no choice but to 'spin' this in as positive light as possible.]
Still, on balance among Chinese prelates Zen is the one characterized by a line of greater realism regarding Beijing. A line, namely, that absolutely does not want to hide the sufferings of so-called underground Catholics. Zen, in fact, from the position of strength he has earned in this issue, has often chosen openly to criticize Beijing. Even though in Hong Kong Catholics are only 5 percent of the population, the Cardinal has often shown, as faithful son of St. John Bosco he is, a courageous social commitment, thanks to which he has become one of the most respected and influential figures – and even feared – in the city. It wasn’t by chance that in 2002 he was voted to be "person of the year", receiving in the newspapers the singular place of "the moral conscience" of Hong Kong.
Beijing is a government that tends to respect tough figures, intransigent in certain issues, like Zen. And even though the day in which he received the Cardinal’s red various observers saw in his controversial character an obstacle to relations with Beijing, Benedict XVI instead red precisely in the fine points of this not easy character that authority which Beijing requires from every interlocutor.
In was in 1999 that Zen’s line toward Beijing came to the fore in way evident to all. At that time there were arrested various exponents of a movement for "residence rights" for children of residents of Hong Kong born in China. Zen took a public position against these arrests and actually got to the point of encouraging hunger strikes and sit-in demonstrations. No religious leader had ever dared so much.
Zen has many times expressed his favor about the letter sent by the Pope to Chinese Catholics. In particular, he saw as positive the desire of Pope Benedict XVI to welcome, after long years of forced separation, the very large majority of bishops of the official Church into the one Catholic Church. "The Church in China", he said on the occasion of the 2005 Synod of Bishops, "apparently divide in two, one official recognize by the government and one clandestine which refuses to be independent from Rome, is in reality only one Church, because all want to be in unity with the Pope". It is hoped, then, that also Beijing will accept this desire for unity "even if" he said, "the ‘conservative’ elements in the official Church resisting it, for obvious motives of self-interest."
I find it really interesting that the Pope chose Card. Zen for this globally visible role on the even of the Beijing Olympics.
Rodari dismisses the idea that this choice is actually a positive extension of a hand to Beijing.
Having Zen in the spotlight at Good Friday, which underscores Christ’s suffering, will automatically also underscore suffering and human rights in China.
No matter what, China must put a positive spin on this choice, given the need to present the very best face to the West, including especially the Holy See, before the Summer Olympics.