Zen joins march after 'restraining' himself for 10 years

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2007, 12:00am

For some people, 10 years might not seem a long wait as far as the introduction of universal suffrage is concerned, but for Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun it is long enough to make him protest on the streets.

'I have restrained myself for 10 years already but we still don't have democracy. That is why we have to march,' he said yesterday. 'Besides, I fear that if I don't march today, I won't have the chance again in the future.'

There is another factor behind the 75-year-old's decision to join his first democracy march.

'It is simple. I am getting old,' said Cardinal Zen, who was frantically trying to hail a taxi before given a lift by a South China Morning Post reporter en route to Victoria Park - the gathering point of the march.

In previous years, he was always accompanied by church aides when he led prayers with the faithful in the traditional joint Christian pre-march prayer session.

But yesterday the frail, grey-haired advocate for the underdog wandered through Victoria Park alone in search of his flock.

Soon loud cheers went up from a group of more than 400 Christians who had gathered to sing and pray for the early dawn of full democracy. With his church-goers around him, Cardinal Zen said he was not in the mood to celebrate the handover, and he made the point that the group had been fighting for social justice and democracy every year for the past decade.

'Ten years ago, I prayed that political reunification with the motherland would bring about a cultural transformation. But our culture has became backward - where the exploitation by the rich of the poor has worsened,' he said.

Citing incidents such as the decision to deny right of abode to mainland children born to Hong Kong parents, the national security bill, and Beijing's decision to prevent universal suffrage by 2007, he urged people to stand up and be counted. 'We are fellow travellers in the road of democracy.'

Asked whether the long walk to the Central Government Offices would be too tough for him, he said: 'I am used to climbing heights. As I can walk to The Peak, so I can march to the finish.'

And he did, with tens of thousands of younger marchers following his lead.