Pope's care for China praised by Cardinal John Tong Hon

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 3:50am

The Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon, has expressed thanks to Pope Benedict for his special concern for the church in China.

In a statement posted on the website of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, Tong briefly remembered his encounters with the Pope after the latter established the Commission for the Catholic Church in China in 2007.

"At the end of every meeting of that commission, he came to see the members in person and encouraged us," he wrote.

On February 10, one day before Benedict announced his decision to resign, he extended special greetings and a blessing to people celebrating the Lunar New Year throughout the world, Tong said.

He praised Benedict as "a man of fervent prayer". "He is deeply aware that in order to fulfil his papal duties, he cannot rely on word and deed, he also needs prayer ... After he resigns, he will serve the church wholeheartedly through prayer," he wrote.

Tong is one of 116 cardinals who will vote for the new Pope in the Vatican next month, and will be the first Hongkonger to vote for one. He called on Catholics in Hong Kong to pray for the smooth election of the next Pope.

Benedict, 85, will step down on February 28. He said he no longer has the mental or physical strength to carry on his duties.

When he was elected, Benedict made it clear he wanted to re-establish diplomatic relations with China that were severed in 1951. He wrote a landmark letter to the 12 million Chinese Catholics in 2007, urging them to unite under Rome's wing.

But tensions with the state-backed church in China remained.

The Chinese government does not recognise the Pope as the leader of China's Catholics and has appointed its own church leaders.