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Cardinal Zen and Jimmy Lai among Hong Kongers nominated for Nobel Peace Prize 

February 3, 2023 Catholic News Agency 0
Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia’s highest-ranking Catholic clerics, arrives at a court for his trial in Hong Kong on Sept. 26, 2022. / Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

St. Louis, Mo., Feb 3, 2023 / 14:15 pm (CNA).

A bipartisan congressional commission chaired by Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey, announced Thursday the nomination of six Hong Kongers, including Cardinal Joseph Zen and jailed Catholic media mogul Jimmy Lai, for the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in the cause of human rights.

“Jimmy Lai, Cardinal Joseph Zen, Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, Gwyneth Ho, Lee Cheuk-Yan, and Joshua Wong were nominated because they are ardent champions of Hong Kong’s autonomy, human rights, and the rule of law as guaranteed under the Sino-British Declaration and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the announcement from the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China reads.

“The nominees are representative of millions of Hong Kongers who peacefully opposed the steady erosion of the city’s democratic freedoms by the Hong Kong government and the government of the People’s Republic of China. Through the nomination, the members of Congress seek to honor all those in Hong Kong whose bravery and determination in the face of repression has inspired the world.”

All of those nominated have been involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, especially since 2019, when large-scale protests against authoritarian Chinese rule erupted on the territory, which is a special administrative region of China.

Hong Kongers have historically enjoyed greater freedom of religion than on the Chinese mainland, where religious believers of all stripes are routinely surveilled and restricted by the communist government. But in recent years, Beijing has sought to tighten control over religious practices in Hong Kong under the guise of protecting national security.

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 91, is the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, having led the territory’s Catholics from 2002 to 2009. An outspoken advocate for religious freedom and democracy, Zen also is a sharp critic of the Vatican’s 2018 agreement with Beijing on the appointment of bishops, which was renewed in October 2022 for another two-year term.

Zen was arrested last May by Hong Kong authorities and put on trial for allegedly failing to civilly register a pro-democracy fund. He was convicted and ordered to pay a fine, which he has appealed.

The cardinal wrote on his blog on Jan. 31 that, following his return from Rome for Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral, he was receiving treatment in the hospital after experiencing difficulty breathing.

Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is an entrepreneur and billionaire media mogul who converted to Catholicism in 1997. Lai has supported the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement for more than 30 years and has said that his Catholic faith is a major motivating factor in his pro-democracy advocacy. The newspaper he founded, Apple Daily, had distinguished itself over the years as a strongly pro-democracy publication critical of the Chinese government in Beijing before it was forced to shut down.

Lai has been jailed since December 2020 for his involvement in pro-democracy protests and faces the possibility of being sentenced to life in prison under national security charges. On Dec. 13, 2022, a Hong Kong court delayed Lai’s national security trial, initially scheduled for that month, until September 2023.

Two of the other nominees were initially sentenced to jail time alongside Lai. One is Tonyee Chow Hang-tung, a lawyer and vice-chair of a now-shuttered civil society group, who was arrested in connection with a 2020 vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam, a journalist, was detained on a national security charge for peacefully participating in an opinion poll ahead of an election.

Also nominated is Lee Cheuk-yan, a veteran labor rights advocate and former legislator sentenced for joining unauthorized assemblies, who is facing additional criminal allegations on national security grounds.

Finally, Joshua Wong Chi-fung had been previously imprisoned for his role in organizing protests in Hong Kong in 2014. In the summer of 2019, he participated in large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. In November 2021, three pro-democracy activists, including Wong, pleaded guilty to charges related to their roles in an “illegal assembly” in 2019. The next month, they were each sentenced to months in prison, with the possibility that they will face further charges.

Other Catholic pro-democracy organizers in Hong Kong have been recognized for their work in recent years. In 2021, Martin Lee Chu-ming, a Catholic lawyer who helped found the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, was nominated for the prize.


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Cardinal Zen hospitalized in Hong Kong after returning from Benedict XVI’s funeral

February 1, 2023 Catholic News Agency 2
Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Hong, attends the funeral Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Jan. 5, 2023, in St. Peter’s Square. / Credit: Diane Montagna

Rome Newsroom, Feb 1, 2023 / 09:02 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen has been hospitalized in Hong Kong after his health deteriorated upon returning from Benedict XVI’s funeral in Rome.

The 91-year-old cardinal wrote on his blog on Jan. 31 that he is receiving treatment in the hospital after experiencing difficulty breathing.

Zen said that the doctors have already conducted many examinations and ruled out that he does not have a bacterial infection in his lungs as he experienced in 2016 when he was hospitalized for three weeks.

“You have not heard from me as I have been staying in the hospital. Please rest assured, Hong Kong’s most senior doctors are taking care of me,” he wrote.

The former bishop of Hong Kong revealed that he had already been experiencing some health difficulties before he received permission from a Hong Kong court to travel to Rome for the Jan. 5 funeral of Benedict XVI.

Despite having inflammation in his shoulders, an aching back, and numbness in his hands, Zen said that he felt that he “could not give up the opportunity” to be present at the funeral.

“The funeral of Pope Benedict was very important to me; and like a miracle, God allowed me to go to Rome to attend: The court approved, the police let me get back my passport; the airline just had a flight so that I could catch the funeral in time, therefore, I felt that I couldn’t give up this opportunity and decided to go,” he said.

“When I went to Rome, I felt that I represented the whole of Hong Kong and the whole of China, expressing our respect and love to Pope Benedict XVI.”

After his four-day trip to Rome, the cardinal spent 10 days resting in Hong Kong, but his health unexpectedly continued to deteriorate, worsening on the first day of Lunar New Year, Jan. 22.

Zen shared the update on his health in a blog post titled “Letter to Inmates.” The retired cardinal  has dedicated his time over the past 10 years to prison ministry in Hong Kong and has baptized several prisoners.

“Do not forget that we will never be separated in prayer,” he wrote to the inmates. “I will continue to pray for you, and please remember me in your prayers.”


The Dispatch

The White-Martyr Cardinals’ Dinner

January 25, 2023 George Weigel 6

On the night of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s funeral, Cardinal George Pell hosted a dinner in his apartment for a group of like-minded mourners, and all present were delighted that the heroic Cardinal Joseph Zen […]

The Dispatch

Cardinal Zen ‘very concerned’ about Synod on Synodality

January 17, 2023 Catholic News Agency 5
Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Hong, attends the funeral Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Jan. 5, 2023, in St. Peter’s Square. / Credit: Diane Montagna

Rome, Italy, Jan 17, 2023 / 07:21 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen has said that he is “very concerned” about what could happen with the ongoing Synod on Synodality and that he is praying that “our pope will have greater wisdom.”

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Il Giornale published on Jan. 17, Zen said he hopes the synod will change from its current course.

“I fear that the synod is repeating the same mistake of the Dutch Church 50 years ago when the bishops backtracked and accepted the faithful to lead the Church; then their number decreased,” he said.

The retired bishop of Hong Kong was likely referring to the Pastoral Council of Noordwijkerhout held in the Netherlands between 1966 and 1970, which called for Church authority to be carried out in dialogue, for women to assume ecclesial roles, and for priestly celibacy to be optional in the Church.

The council followed the publication of the “Dutch Catechism,” a text so controversial that Pope Paul VI asked a commission of cardinals to examine its presentation of Catholic teaching. 

In the interview, Cardinal Zen also reflected on his private meeting with Pope Francis when he was allowed to travel to Rome for the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI earlier this month, calling it “a wonderful meeting, very warm.”

“I thanked the pope for the good bishop appointed to Hong Kong in 2021,” Zen said, referring to Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow.

He said Pope Francis replied: “’I know it well, he is a Jesuit!’”

The cardinal, who turned 91 last week, also told the pope about how he has dedicated his time over the past decade to prison ministry in Hong Kong and has baptized several prisoners: “Francis said that he was very happy for my ministry.”

Zen himself was arrested last year under Hong Kong’s national security law. He said that Catholics in China are living in a difficult situation and “we must never forget to pray in these difficult times.”

“Many faithful bear witness to their faith conscientiously but we know that when the situation becomes difficult, some think only of their own interests. We continue to uphold truth, justice, and charity. Darkness will not win over the light,” he said.


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Cardinal Zen attends Benedict XVI funeral after Hong Kong authorities release passport

January 5, 2023 Catholic News Agency 3
Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Hong (second from left), attends the funeral Mass for Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Jan. 5, 2023, in St. Peter’s Square. / Alan Koppschall/EWTN

Vatican City, Jan 5, 2023 / 02:25 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen attended the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Thursday morning after Hong Kong authorities temporarily released his passport for five days to allow him to travel to Rome.

The 90-year-old cardinal from Hong Kong arrived in St. Peter’s Square dressed in red and walking with a cane to concelebrate the funeral Mass on Jan. 5.

The former bishop of Hong Kong, who was arrested last year under the city’s national security law, was allowed by a local court to travel to Italy to be present for the funeral of the late pope who made him a cardinal.

A magistrate ruled on Jan. 3 that the Chinese cardinal would be allowed to leave Hong Kong for five days with his previously confiscated passport temporarily returned to him.

Following the death of Benedict XVI on Dec. 31, Zen reflected on the legacy of the late pope emeritus.

The cardinal wrote on his blog that Benedict XVI was a “great defender of the truth” who took “extraordinary” actions to support the Church in China, despite many setbacks.

“As a member of the Chinese Church, I am immensely grateful to Pope Benedict for things he has done that he did not do for other Churches,” Zen wrote.

The Hong Kong cardinal recalled in particular Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter to China, which Zen called “a masterpiece of balance between the lucidity of Catholic ecclesiological doctrine and humble understanding with respect to civil authority.”

Zen also criticized “errors” in the Chinese translation of Benedict’s letter, which he said he believed contained “biased quotations against the obvious sense of the letter.”

“Another extraordinary thing he did for the Church in China is the establishment of a powerful commission to take care of the affairs of the Church in China; unfortunately under the new president of said commission it has been made to disappear quietly without even a word of respectful farewell,” the cardinal added.

Benedict XVI created Zen a cardinal in 2006 and selected the cardinal to write the meditations for the papal Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in 2008, one year before Zen’s retirement as bishop of Hong Kong.

Zen underlined that he sees Benedict XVI as a pope who was “often misunderstood and sometimes not followed” but said that it is “precisely in these cases, which seem to be failures, that I was able to admire his great fortitude and magnanimity in the face of setbacks.”

“Despite his great efforts, Pope Benedict failed to improve the situation of the Church in China. He could not accept just any compromise,” the Chinese cardinal said.

The cardinal, who was born in Shanghai, added that he is “convinced that every effort to improve the situation of the Church in China [in the future] will need to be taken in line with the 2007 letter.”

“As we remember the great pontiff, let us remember that we now have him as a powerful intercessor in heaven. With his intercession, we pray that all, the Church in Rome, the Church in China, and the Chinese authorities will be moved by God’s grace to bring about true peace for the Church and our homeland,” Zen said.