The protests in Hong Kong highlight the impossible bind that China’s 10 million Catholics are in. They know that an agreement between the Vatican and Beijing is unlikely to be honoured – but without an agreement, they fear they will continue to persecuted
Journalists do not often think they have come face to face with holiness. It tends to make them feel ill at ease – unlike, say, charm, wit or malice – and rarely makes its way into print. Yet from time to time in journalism you are reminded that some things are intangible but important. At the end of a long interview with Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong some years ago, the conversation paused.
We had covered all the usual ground: the suffering of bishops imprisoned in China; the harassment endured by Catholics loyal to Rome; the hopes, unrealistic in the cardinal’s eyes, that soon the Word might be spread freely in Communist China. At a loss for small talk, I asked him how as an altar boy in Shanghai, he had first felt a sense of vocation. His eyes lit up and he smiled.
“It was the priests themselves,” he said. “They were so kind, so warm, so gentle. Everything they did was good. They never thought about themselves. They always had time for their people. We had nothing like that in Chinese culture at the time. It made me feel that this was an example for life.”