From Vatican Insider comes this charming story about Pope Francis’ support for an initiative by Catholics in Hong Kong to provide a traditional holiday treat to thousands of Chinese prisoners.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has for several years provided more than 10,000 prisoners with mooncakes, pastries traditionally eaten on and around the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Vatican Insider reports:
The cardinal, who has been a regular visitor to prisoners in Hong Kong’s jails for many years, recalled how he first started the project several years ago to bring some joy to the prisoners on this festival day, which is celebrated by families in China, Vietnam, Taiwan as well as Hong Kong.
He revealed that the idea first came to him while he was visiting one of the local prisons. At that time “the prison rules were very strict and it was not possible to give gifts to the prisoners at Christmas or Easter”, but then the thought struck him that maybe the authorities would allow him to give mooncakes for this traditional Chinese festival to the more than 1000 prisoners in the jail that he regularly visited. He proposed the project to the Commissioner of Prisons and, to his delight, the Commissioner gave his approval but on one condition: the cardinal would have to provide mooncakes for all the prisoners in Hong Kong who, at that time, totaled around 12,000.
The cardinal accepted the challenge and in those first years he was able to provide the mooncakes thanks to private donations. Then three or four years ago he decided to involve the Catholic community of Hong Kong in this venture, and since then they have generously provided the money for this purpose. This year, the cardinal decided also to also enlist the support of Pope Francis and requested that he make “a symbolic donation.”
The Pope responded with generosity and even sent a handwritten note in which he expressed gratitude to everyone who donated to this year’s initiative. His hand written note in Italian, said: “Dear Faithful, I gladly join with you to donate mooncakes to our brothers and sisters in the prisons of Hong Kong. Jesus will recognize us at the door of Heaven. Happy Moon Festival! I cordially bless you, PP Francesco.” …
Pope Francis’ response “generated excitement and a flood of cash donations”, UCA News reported, so much so that some days before the festival more than $HK 200,000 had already been donated to the project enabling the organizer to buy some 15,000 mooncakes for as many prisoners.