Successor will follow my path to justice, says Zen

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2008, 12:00am

The next leader of Hong Kong's Catholics will help the church in its mission to promote social justice, people's well-being and democratisation, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said yesterday.

He also expressed the hope that Coadjutor Bishop John Tong Hon, who was appointed his successor by Pope Benedict on Wednesday, would strengthen the diocese's ties with Catholics across the border.

Cardinal Zen - who has been seen as being confrontational with Beijing - told the South China Morning Post that although his successor might have a different style, Bishop Tong would carry out the mission expected of a church leader.

'Although Cardinal Zen is not Bishop Tong and Bishop Tong is not Cardinal [John Baptist] Wu [Cheng-chung], and despite each having a different personal style, all must follow the mission given to us by God and carry it through in accordance to the needs of the times,' he said.

'Whatever I do, Bishop Tong will collaborate. We have deep mutual understanding.'

Cardinal Zen, who turned 76 last month, earlier had his resignation request rejected by the Pope despite being over the retirement age of 75. He has long been a vocal champion for social justice and democracy in Hong Kong.

His wish for the Holy See to appoint Bishop Tong coadjutor - who has the right to succeed him as Bishop of Hong Kong upon his retirement - was finalised last week when Cardinal Zen visited Rome for a meeting on the Vatican's China policy.

While the Pope had yet to agree to relieve him of his duties as head of the diocese so he could devote all his attention to mainland church affairs, Cardinal Zen said now Bishop Tong, 68, was officially his successor, he could help share the administration.

'I will definitely ask Bishop Tong to take on a much larger workload. But I have no idea when the Holy Father will allow me to retire. I will keep reminding him regularly.'

Asked whether his legacy as a fearless critic of the Hong Kong and central governments would be a burden for Bishop Tong to live up to, Cardinal Zen said it would be inappropriate for him to impose expectations in too much detail. 'Even for myself, I have in the past said, 'see one step, take one step'. How can I tell Bishop Tong what steps he should take?'

As Bishop Tong has maintained close relationships with Catholics in both the state-sanctioned and underground mainland church communities, Beijing is expected to be positive about the appointment.

Cardinal Zen said he hoped his successor would help to develop Hong Kong's bridging role.

'On relations with the mainland church, it is something he has to do himself and is part of his task.'

Bishop Tong has been head of the diocese's Holy Spirit Study Centre, which has kept close contact with the mainland church, for two decades.

Sources close to the Vatican said Bishop Tong's vast China experience was among reasons he was chosen. But unlike the situation with appointments of mainland bishops, the Holy See had not communicated with Beijing on his appointment.

Bishop Tong has been auxiliary bishop since 1996. It is believed Rome might soon appoint an auxiliary bishop to assist the cardinal and Bishop Tong.