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Colourful tribute to cardinal who resisted BeijingCardinal Zen of Hong Kong remembers Taiwan ally
30 August 2012, 9:00
Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, is well known as an outspoken critic of the Chinese Government's efforts to control the Church. Here he pays tribute to a confrere who he said shared his outlook completely. Chinese-born Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-Hsi died on 22 August aged 88, Taiwan's first and so far only cardinal, who even in the last months of his life stood up to Beijing authorities.
I got to know Cardinal Paul Shan at those 'secret' meetings that were held in the Vatican on the problems of the Church in mainland China, when Cardinal Jozef Tomko was Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Those meetings were 'joint and extended' and were attended by officials of the Secretariat of State and the Congregation of Propaganda Fide, mostly Vatican experts in dogma and canon law, some Chinese bishops (not from the mainland) and some so-called 'China watchers'.
I was invited to the first meeting as a 'China watcher' - I taught in seminaries in China from 1989 to 1996 - and then as coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong. Cardinal Shan was participating as bishop of Kaohsiung and president of the Episcopal Conference of Taiwan.
Our views on the problems of the Church in China matched perfectly. The difference was in our ways of expressing ourselves. I'm a little 'Italianate', I raise my voice too easily, I move my arms and gesticulate, Paul Shan was a perfect Chinese 'wise man' with a quiet and persuasive voice. I envied him, but I found him impossible to imitate.
The last of those meetings was held three days after the canonization of martyrs in China, that is, October 4, 2000, which was also attended by Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Regarding the canonisation of the Chinese martyrs, we the faithful in China are very grateful to Blessed John Paul II, but it was Cardinal Shan who 'provoked' the Pope to overcome diplomatic concerns. I use the word 'provoke' because Cardinal dared to tell the Holy Father that our martyrs were suffering a second martyrdom in Rome. Unfortunately, the Chinese government vindicated the concerns of the Vatican diplomats, launching a fierce campaign against the canonization: thus we could say that our martyrs suffered a third martyrdom!
On 1 July 1997, Hong Kong was returned under the sovereignty of the Chinese nation, unfortunately governed by the Communist and atheist Party. To ensure a peaceful succession to Card. John Baptist Wu, the Holy Father, towards the end of 1996, gave the diocese of Hong Kong a coadjutor bishop [the same Joseph Zen] and an auxiliary [John Tong] for the Cardinal. The decision was certainly a sign of the Pope's great kindness, but the genius of the 'one plus one' formula came from Cardinal Tomko's proposal, and, doubtlessly, a word in his hear from Cardinal Shan.
For our ordination, we two bishops could not - for obvious reasons - invite bishops from mainland China and neither was it advisable at the time to invite many bishops from Taiwan. With great understanding, Card. Shan, as President of the Episcopal Conference, came to represent them all. He was therefore one of the 'parents' of our episcopate.
From the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has shown a special solicitude for his children of the Church in China. He wrote a Letter that will stand out as a milestone, and has established a Pontifical Commission of impressive consistency.
When in 2007 was published the letter, I found myself in front of the beautiful text [in Italian], but also a seriously flawed Chinese translation and an 'Explanatory Note' which contained misleading expressions, with an abyss in the expressions contained within the papal letter.
Not knowing what to do, I immediately travelled to Taiwan to seek the advise of Cardinal Shan. It proved to be sound advice: immediately publish the comment that I had already prepared, in which I pointed out the beauty of the Letter, a masterpiece of balance between clearly explained doctrinal principles and understanding benevolence towards the people, and then, after a few days, publish my criticism of the translation errors and tendentious explanatory note.
As is obvious, Cardinal Shan was appointed one of the members of the new Commission, but after the first few meetings, he resigned: due to age could no longer bear more fatigue of long journeys. His absence grieved me deeply. In his goodness he said, 'You are there, so I do not need to worry'.
I did my best to take these words to heart and I would often travel to Taiwan to speak with him and seek his wise counsel.
My last visit with Cardinal Shan was a month ago, in late July, after his last operation. He was already in a wheelchair, but his mind was clear and voice robust, I certainly did not foresee that the end was so near. He gave me two books and insisted on signing them. It was a rather difficult task: this hand no longer had the strength and the characters of his name in Chinese are particularly complicated.
Everyone knows Cardinal Shan's brave battle with cancer in these six years, but it would be better to say that he transformed it into a special grace of the Lord, as a shining testimony of how someone who believes is able to live and knows how to die.
There is one fact, perhaps lesser known, but very significant for me as an example of the greatness of this man of God, and I will share it with you here, as I conclude my thoughts on the late cardinal.
Months ago, Mr Wang Zuoan, Director of Religious Affairs of the State Council of China and Mr Liu, Secretary General of the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics paid him a visit. He had expressed his desire to go and see his sister in her native village and visit his old school friend, Msgr Aloysius Jin Luxian, Bishop of Shanghai.
Mr Wang said, 'Okay, I'll grant you permission, even if you have bad 'record'.' The cardinal asked: 'What bad record?'. 'You have met the Dalai Lama,' he replied. And the cardinal rebuked: 'What harm is there in the fact that a religious person encounters another religious person?'.
'Anyway - Wang concluded - on humanitarian grounds, we'll let you visit.' And the cardinal, with great dignity, pointed out: 'I do not need any humanitarian reason: there is a foundation in China, which has expressed a desire to give me an award.'
'Okay, I will facilitate the invitation,' Wang capitulated.
Shortly before the departure date, however, it was to have been in June, the officials told him that he a visit to Beijing should be included in his itinerary. The cardinal protested, saying that this was not his intention. He knew that any visit to Beijing would certainly be manipulated for political purposes and refused the condition imposed. And so permission for his last visit to China to his family and friends was refused.
I do not know what to admire most, the wisdom of his judgment or his readiness to sacrifice. But now from Heaven our cardinal is as close as ever to his sister and from there, he can help his friend Aloysius, and the diocese of Shanghai, currently in the eye of a storm, more than he was able to do on earth.
Having loved me as a brother, now from Heaven he will be my protector, but to my eyes he will always remain a master of wisdom and fidelity to the Church.
The above article was first published by AsiaNews.
Above: Cardinal Shan, retired bishop of Kaohsiung, Taiwan, with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, following a 2009 interfaith meeting. Photo: CNS/Pichi Chuang, Reuters
1 September 2012 6:54 (1 of 1)
As the Secretary-General of the UN recently took the chance to visit Teheran during the summit of the Non-aligned Nations to 'lecture' Iran, Cardinal Shan lost a perfect chance to have a discussion with the Government in Beijing. Here we see the difference between the attitude of an experienced Diplomat and that of a high ranking, well meaning, Catholic Prelate.