Times: Vatican tones down Good Friday service to avoid upsetting China

From The Times Online we read:

Vatican tones down Good Friday service to avoid upsetting China
Richard Owen of The Times in Rome

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the Archbishop of Hong Kong and a noted critic of Beijing, has "toned down" his meditations for tomorrow’s Good Friday torch lit ceremony at the Colosseum in order not to upset the "sensitive" dialogue between the Holy See and China, it was reported in Rome today.

Cardinal Zen was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to formulate the the meditations for the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession on Good Friday as a sign of the priority the Vatican gives to the dialogue with China. The stations of the cross are illustrated in this year’s Via Crucis order of service in an "oriental" style.

Cardinal Zen told Vatican Radio he aimed to reflect the plight of China’s Catholics and "the sufferings the Church still endures in China today". He would draw attention to "the martyrdom to which my people has been subjected for being Christian. Many suffer for the faith. And now there is a harmony between the Passion of the Lord and the passion of my people."

However the published text of the Via Crucis meditations contains no such references. Instead there are general references to "the martyrs of the twenty first century", the "dark times of persecution" faced by many Christians in the world, and the need for "religious freedom".

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica suggested this was either "prudence" or "self censorship". Cardinal Zen told Corriere della Sera that his references to "persecution" were not meant as an "accusation" or "protest".

The Vatican said Pope Benedict would watch most of the Good Friday procession service from a vantage point above the Colosseum and would only take part himself in the last three stations. Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope’s spokesman, said this did not reflect concerns about the health of the Pope, who will turn 81 during his demanding trip to the United States next month.

"It is reasonable that he would want to conserve his energy," Father Lombardi said. The Way of the Cross will be led by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Vicar of Rome. Pope Benedict, elected nearly three years ago, had previously taken part in the entire procession, carrying the cross at the first and last stations.

He was criticised this week for his "silence" over Tibet, also seen as the result of the Vatican’s desire not to upset talks with Beijing. But at the general audience on Wednesday the Pope expressed "sadness and pain in the face of so much suffering" in Tibet – his first reference to the clashes. He said he had been "following with great trepidation the news coming these days from Tibet", adding "Problems cannot be solved through violence, but only made worse".

The Vatican and China have been at odds since the 1950s when the Communist authorities closed down the Catholic Church and set up its own "Patriotic Catholic Association" with the right to appoint bishops.

China’s Catholic minority, estimated to number up to 12 million, is split between those who belong to the Patriotic Association and those who follow the "underground" church loyal to the Pope.

Pope Benedict has made improving ties with Beijing a major goal of his pontificate, and last year sent a letter to China’s Catholics in which he called for dialogue with the Chinese authorities. Beijing has since appointed at least two Vatican-approved bishops to the official church.

Last week a Vatican commission on China said the Holy See sought "respectful and constructive" dialogue with Beijing and unity for the country’s divided Church. The commission urged "forgiveness and reconciliation within the Catholic community" in China.

Cardinal Zen said that "during the writing of the meditations, I placed myself, at first, on the side of Jesus and my persecuted brothers, and I experienced sentiments that were not very Christian toward their persecutors. But at one point I realized that, because of my infidelities, I deserve rather to be part of the group of deserters, betrayers, of the persecutors. I hope that all of us experience this conversion."

He said he had to step back and purify himself of the "less than charitable feelings" he had toward those who made Jesus suffer and who "are making our brothers and sisters suffer in today’s world."

In his meditation for the First Station — "Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane" — Cardinal Zen draws on Pope Benedict’s June letter to Chinese Catholics to remind people that in many parts of the world, the church "is going through the dark times of persecution."

In his meditation for the Fourth Station — "Jesus is denied by Peter" — Cardinal Zen says Christ’s decision to entrust "weak and vulnerable men" to continue his mission of salvation is a sign of his wisdom and strength.

His Fifth Station meditation – "Jesus is judged by Pilate" – asks God to give leaders "the courage to respect religious freedom." Pontius Pilate was a symbol of all those who wield authority "as an instrument of power" and not as a vehicle for carrying out "true justice".

In his Eighth Station meditation – "Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross" — Cardinal Zen praises "nonbelievers" who "generously alleviate" the suffering of Christians.

The 14 stations are drawn directly from the Gospel of Mark and do not include apocryphal events not in the Bible such as St Veronica wiping Jesus’ face.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Jamie says:

    Is St Veronica to go the way of Limbo now?

  2. gjoe says:

    While I don’t have any concrete reason to doubt this story, I’ve begun approaching Richard Owen and the London Times with a bit of caution lately. He’s constantly turning out Liturgical TinFoil Hat stories that have led me to read his reporting with a grain of salt.

    In other words, I dismiss his work until I see it reported elsewhere without citing his work or the London Times in the corroborating story.

  3. Jonathan Bennett says:

    Why are the traditional Stations not being used?

    Has it become wrong to do so? Whether or not this is actually the case, it certainly seems so to many Catholics when Rome deliberately rejects a tradition based on questionable authenticity from a purely scriptural point of view.

  4. Jason in San Antonio says:

    Wait, so there are Jews in China?

  5. Jeff Pinyan says:

    I too am somewhat surprised by the use of the sola scriptura Stations.

  6. Maureen says:

    2005 (done by then-Cardinal Ratzinger) was traditional Stations.
    2006 was traditional Stations.
    2007 was scriptural ones.
    2008 is scriptural ones.

    Considering how many different versions of the Stations there are, I’m not particularly worried. Maybe they want to alternate every two years. Maybe they ask the person which version of the Stations they want to write up. Who knows?

  7. Maureen says:

    I should have looked a little further.
    There was a certain amount of variance even in the “scriptural” stations, btw.

    1991 – Mark.
    1992 – not on vatican.va.
    1993 – traditional.
    1994 – Mark.
    1995 – Mark.
    1996 – not on vatican.va.
    1997 – Mark
    1998 – traditional.
    1999 – not on vatican.va.
    2000 – traditional.
    2001 – traditional.
    2002 – Mark.
    2003 – traditional.
    2004 – Mark.
    2005 – traditional.

    So there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rule about which one they do in Rome which year.

  8. Maureen says:

    Cardinal Zen’s meditations on the Stations are not toned down. They’re very strong. If this is toned down, I’m pretty sure the pain and anger of his first draft must have burned the paper it was written on.

  9. Kradcliffe says:

    The next time I am tempted to whine about how far I have to travel to hear a Latin Mass, I will say a prayer for Chinese Catholics and persecuted Catholics everywhere.

  10. We will have to listen carefully to what they actually say.

  11. Pope Evaristus, Martyr says:

    May God have mercy on the poor Chinese, who suffer for Christ.

  12. Jamie says:

    But what about poor Saint Veronica? I read a website by a nun the other day and she told someone who had written in that St Veronica was like St Christopher and St Philomena – lovely traditions but not real people – now in the last two days I have seen two rejections of St Veronica. How about the Sudarium of Oviedo (or veil of Veronica) which matches identically the Shroud of Turin?

  13. John says:

    A clarification… The Sudarium of Oviedo is NOT the veil of Veronica. It is rather, the cloth (think of a very large handkerchief in size) that was wrapped around Christ’s head while He was lowered from the cross. The Shroud of Turin on the other hand is the linen body wrapping that they wrapped Christ’s body in after annointing it. I just finished a very interesting book (Sacred Blood, Sacred Image; the Sudarium of Oviedo by Janice Bennett) that covered the history of the Sudarium as well as some of the fairly recent scientific investigation into the cloth.

    This Sudarium is mentioned in John’s Gospel. When John and Peter entered Christ’s tomb on Easter, John saw the Sudarium in the corner still (neatly) rolled up and saturated with Christ’s Blood. The shroud in which His body was wrapped on the other hand was lying flattened out where Christ’s body had been placed. The fact that the shroud was flattened out where it had surrounded Christ’s body shows that John (and we also) realized that Christ’s body was raised through the cloth and that the shroud WAS NOT unrolled from around Christ’s body after he was dead, Christ’s body removed, and the shroud then rolled up.

    I hope I explained this understandably. The book mentioned above is very easy to read and very thorough.


  14. Kradcliffe says:

    Jamie, I kinda agree with Sr. Mary Martha. I don’t think there is any record of St. Veronica until the 12th century or so. But, I also like St. Veronica, so I sort of choose to believe.

    There’s another famous miraculous image written about in history… the Mandylion of Edessa. In that case, somebody asked Jesus if they could paint his picture and he just grabbed a towel, wiped his face with it, and handed it to the guy.

  15. Maureen says:

    Zenit has the English translation up of Cardinal Zen’s meditation up. So you don’t have to believe me and Google Translate anymore!


  16. Maureen says:

    OTOH, it appears that the English translator is considerably wimping down the Italian, in the predictable church lady places.

    I mean, God forbid that there should be an “army” of Cyreneans helping the persecuted, when it could be a “throng”. Bleh.

  17. Maureen says:

    Re: Jason in San Antonio

    Actually, there are Jews in China. They came over the Silk Road, much as the Jews who evangelized the Khazar Empire must have done. Their ethnic identity is a bit frail, but it’s there. And in fact, this ties into the Chinese crime story thing, because Judge Bao (currently the most famous ancient Chinese magistrate detective) was from Kaifeng, one of the ancient capitals and also home of one of the communities of Chinese Jews.

    Judge Bao’s house survives, and includes Jewish symbols; so many argue that the historical Judge was part of said Jewish community. Since Judge Bao is currently not just a star of Chinese opera stage and TV screen, but has been worshipped for over a thousand years as a god of justice, it’s a bit… odd.

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