Sat, Feb 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

China warns new cardinal to steer clear of politics

AP , HONG KONG

China issued a curt warning on Thursday to newly appointed Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君) to avoid politics, in its first comments on the Vatican's decision to promote one of its vocal critics.

"We have taken note of Zen's appointment. We advocate that religious figures should not interfere with politics," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) said in Beijing.

Zen, speaking in Hong Kong, said he doesn't think China considers him an enemy and he hopes to help establish ties between the Chinese government and the Holy See.

He also said in an interview with CNN that there are two types of politics. Clergy should not be involved in "power politics" -- forming parties and running for election -- he said.

The other type of politics is "the participation in the common things of society," Zen said.

"The second kind of politics should be the duty of everybody, of all citizens," he said.

Zen, who was named cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday and is to assume the post next month, is a strong supporter of China's underground Catholics. He is also a democracy advocate in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese region that holds direct elections only for some political posts.

outspoken

Despite his outspokenness, Zen said he doesn't think China sees him as the opposition. He said he visited Beijing after becoming bishop in 2002 and taught at mainland Chinese seminaries between 1989 and 1996.

The 74-year-old clergyman also noted he has visited Shanghai and the southern Guangdong province. Despite reports that he has been banned from the mainland, he said he has never received notice of a ban from Beijing.

Zen told reporters his appointment signals the importance the pope attaches to China, calling it "a sign of special benevolence of the Holy Father for the Chinese people."

China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Chinese Communist Party took power. Worship is only allowed in government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops.

unofficial

Millions of Chinese, however, belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome, and claim they are frequently harassed, fined and sometimes sent to labor camps by authorities.

Zen didn't give a timetable for re-establishing Sino-Vatican ties but expressed hope it can be achieved before the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

He said two often-mentioned stumbling blocks -- the Vatican's recognition of Taiwan and China's desire to have a say in bishop appointments -- can be resolved, but other issues remain.

"The Chinese churches have already lived in a very special situation for a long time. The state controls the churches tightly, so to normalize the situation suddenly, to allow total religious freedom like in other countries isn't a simple matter," he said.

Still, he said, "I think there is a will on both sides" and expressed a desire to play a role in that development.

It isn't clear if Zen will remain in Hong Kong or receive a posting in the Holy See. He has applied to the Vatican for permission to retire as bishop at the age 75.

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