Zen is ready to speak his mind on China
Ambrose Leung at the Vatican
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun intended to brief the Pope on the latest situation in the Catholic Church in China yesterday, when he met the Pontiff for the first time since the announcement of his elevation last month.
But the leader of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong also said the Vatican should not re-establish diplomatic relations with Beijing before the mainland relaxes its grip on religious freedom.
Speaking during a break in a day-long meeting between cardinals and Pope Benedict in the Vatican, Cardinal Zen said he would raise the situation of China when he had the chance to speak.
More than 100 cardinals and cardinals-designate were called to a special day of 'reflection and prayer' ahead of today's ceremony to formally elevate 15 new cardinals. A range of challenges facing the Church, including its relationship with the Islamic world, long-term rifts with the Orthodox Church and the Chinese government, were expected to dominate the day of behind-closed-door discussions, sources said.
Cardinal Zen said that while he would try his best to advise the Holy See on the best way to improve Sino-Vatican relations he also hoped there would be more contact between the two sides at the Church level to improve mutual understanding.
'I hope the mainland authorities will understand that we, as Catholics, are very peaceful.'
Cardinal Zen said he hoped Beijing could be convinced that giving religious freedom to the people would benefit the state, as religion was a stabilising force in society.
But when asked whether he wished the Pope would name more Chinese cardinals the future, Cardinal Zen said it was not possible at present because diplomatic relations had still not been established.
'What is important is that there should first be religious freedom, then diplomatic relations.'
Yesterday's meeting in the Auditorium of Paul VI was broken into two parts - the cardinals discussed specific issues before being allowed to speak on their own initiatives.
The event was one of several opportunities Cardinal Zen will have to meet the Pope during his Vatican trip. It is understood a private audience will be arranged later.
Cardinal Zen will today formally receive his 'red hat' from the Pope at a ceremony called a consistory, to be held in St Peter's Square, before co-celebrating a Mass with Benedict and all the cardinals tomorrow.