ROME — Pope Francis offered prayers for the Church in China on Sunday, noting the “complex life” lived by the faithful and pastors in that country.
Taking advantage of the upcoming Catholic memorial of Mary Help of Christians, which is “particularly dear to Catholics in China who venerate Mary, Help of Christians as their Patroness in the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai, in many churches throughout the country, and in their homes,” the pontiff urged all Catholics to pray for Chinese Christians following his weekly Regina Caeli prayer.
“This happy occasion offers me the opportunity to assure them once again of my spiritual closeness,” the pope declared. “I am attentively and actively following the often complex life and situations of the faithful and pastors, and I pray every day for them.”
“I invite all of you to unite yourselves in this prayer,” the pope told pilgrims gathered in Saint Peter’s Square, “so that the Church in China, in freedom and tranquility, might live in effective communion with the universal Church, and might exercise its mission of proclaiming the Gospel to everyone, and thus offer a positive contribution to the spiritual and material progress of society as well.”
Francis has been loath to criticize the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) even for its egregious human rights abuses and frequent crackdowns on Catholic clergy and other Christians.
Security officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) forcibly carried off three underground Catholic priests and more than a dozen nuns and seminarians last Monday in Baoding, according to local sources. https://t.co/KAHIgiVopU
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) November 8, 2020
As Breitbart News reported, Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the illegal arrest of Xinxiang Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu, who was taken by police on May 21, 2021, along with 10 priests and 10 seminarians.
While Chinese authorities eventually released first the seminarians and then the priests — after subjecting them to “political sessions” to indoctrinate them with the CCP’s notion of religious freedom — Bishop Zhang was not released and has been illegally held ever since at an unknown location without charges or trial.
The Vatican has apparently made no appeal for Bishop Zhang’s liberation.
On May 11, China-backed Hong Kong police arrested 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former Bishop of Hong Kong, for allegedly conspiring to collude with foreign forces to endanger national security.
In response, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin assured his “closeness” to Cardinal Zen but was quick to insist that the arrest should not be read as “a disavowal” of the provisional agreement between the Vatican and Beijing on the appointments of bishops.
“The most concrete hope is that initiatives such as this one will not complicate the already complex and not simple path of dialogue,” Cardinal Parolin said.
Conversely, the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, Myanmar Cardinal Charles Bo, released a statement condemning the arrest of Cardinal Zen and accusing Hong Kong of having become a “police state.”
Cardinal Bo declared that Cardinal Zen was arrested and charged “simply because he served as a trustee of a fund which provided legal aid to activists facing court cases.”
A poignant new documentary on the state of Christian persecution in China blasts the Vatican’s 2018 deal with the communist government, saying it has created a “double persecution” for faithful Catholics. https://t.co/ebXmYwO8W1
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) April 17, 2020
“How can it be a crime to help accused persons have legal defense and representation?” he asked.
“Hong Kong used to be one of Asia’s freest and most open cities,” Cardinal Bo said. “Today, it has been transformed into a police state. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association, and academic freedom have all been dismantled.”
The cardinal also denounced “recent propaganda attacks against the Church in pro-Beijing media in Hong Kong, and of growing self-censorship among religious leaders due to the circumstances.”
“To see a city that was a beacon for freedom, including religious freedom, move so radically and swiftly down a much darker and more repressive path is heartbreaking,” he said, adding that the Chinese government has “repeatedly and blatantly” broken promises made in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a situation he called “appalling.”