In defense of the last spaces of freedom for the citizens of Hong Kong, erased by law by the Beijing government, bit by bit the democratic governments around the world are making their statements. But not the Vatican authorities and the pope.
Yet they would have every reason to break their silence, especially now that the communication channels between Rome and China are open and navigable as never before.
On the leeway to be granted to the foreign media, Beijing decides how and when it wants, even brutally. On March 17 it abruptly expelled thirteen journalists from the major American newspapers The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
To the Vatican media, however, Beijing is offering golden bridges. During the seventy days of lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic, during which Pope Francis has televised his morning Masses at Santa Marta all over the world, “the voice and face of the bishop of Rome have entered the homes of countless Chinese Catholics every day” the Vatican agency “Fides” has reported. Plus the possibility to enjoy “the sound of the simultaneous translation of the pope’s words into Chinese,” thanks to the most used – and monitored – messaging app in China, called WeChat, with a billion active users.
Also connected to WeChat is the website of the brand-new Chinese edition of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the historic magazine of the Rome Jesuits directed by Antonio Spadaro that is printed with the prior authorization of the Vatican authorities and fully reflects the thought of Pope Francis.
The first issue of the Chinese edition of “La Civiltà Cattolica” went online on April 20, and its web address is made up of the initial letters of the two words that translate the name of the publication, “Gōngjiào Wénmíng”:
The inauguration of the Chinese edition of the magazine was accompanied by a letter of congratulations from the secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, with the usual accompaniment of pledges “of respect, esteem and trust toward the Chinese people and their authorities.”
But of course there is no space in the magazine either for Cardinal Joseph Zen Zekiun, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong and hero of the city’s peaceful protest, or for Burmese cardinal Charles Maung Bo, author of a harsh accusation against “the lies and propaganda” with which the Chinese authorities “have put millions of lives around the world in danger,” by falsifying the origins of the coronavirus epidemic.
While on the other hand, against similar accusations made by American secretary of state Mike Pompeo, the “Global Times,” an expression of the Chinese communist party, has curiously called on none other than the religion of the pope for support, accusing Pompeo of being “a traitor to Christianity” in that he is disobedient to the “ninth commandment” (the one against false witness, ninth for some Protestant groups but for Catholics the eighth).
In China the repression of religious freedom remains severe, and in Hong Kong there is no counting the arrests of high-profile advocates of democracy, including Christians. But everything is happening amid the silence of the Vatican authorities and of Pope Francis, who seems to have other things on his mind. In the one-minute video message he released in March to call for prayer for the Church in China – delivered in Spanish with the Mandarin translation below – he found time to warn Chinese Catholics not to “engage in proselytism,” as if it were this is their capital vice.
On the media landscape, the Vatican has distinguished itself in China in recent months by its works of mercy. Starting with the delivery from Rome in early February, when the epidemic still seemed confined to Wuhan and the surrounding area, of 700,000 masks placed in envelopes with the coat of arms of the pontifical almoner. The first to report on this, with emphasis, was the “Global Times,” the tabloid of the very official “People’s Daily.”
In March, the cardinal secretary of state announced the sending of a gift from Pope Francis to the Chinese charitable organization Jinde Charities, which deals with humanitarian aid and whose headquarters is in Shijiazhuang, 200 miles from Beijing. The gift was 200,000 euros.
Then the flows reversed. In early April Xinde Press, the media branch of Jinde Charities, sent a letter recommending that the pope “wear a mask too” along with three shipments from China to the Holy See of masks, surgical gloves, coveralls, and protective glasses, which were then forwarded by the Vatican to various beneficiaries in Italy.
On April 10, in Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman publicly praised the Vatican for this effective solidarity in “safeguarding global health security.”
The fact is that this media idyll acts as a screen, for the Vatican, for what is happening in Hong Kong.
There the diocese has been without a real bishop since the sudden death in January 2019 of its ordinary at the time, Michael Yeung Mingcheung, and is being provisionally governed by Cardinal John Tong Hon, who had been its bishop until 2017.
The natural successor would be auxiliary bishop Joseph Ha Chishing, but he is considered too close to Cardinal Zen and the liberal currents of the city, and therefore too distasteful to Beijing for the Holy See to opt for him, even though Hong Kong is in no way under that halter agreement signed on September 22 2018 which gives to the Chinese authorities first choice of each new bishop.
A candidate to Beijing’s liking would be Peter Choy Waiman, current vicar of the diocese. And he is the one thought to have been chosen by Rome as the new bishop of Hong Kong. The appointment was given as imminent in January, but has remained pending since then.
While the Beijing government has been wasting no time, installing in February as new head of the office of the state council for the affairs of Hong Kong and Macao Xia Baolong, a stalwart of President Xi Jinping and his political teammate in Zhejiang, where he distinguished himself for intolerance against “underground” Protestant and Catholic communities. Between 2013 and 2017, when Xia was vice president of the communist party in that region, it is estimated that 1,200 crosses and dozens of churches were razed to the ground.
It comes as no surprise that Xia’s appointment provided an opportunity for the last British governor in Hong Kong, the Catholic Chris Patten, to harshly criticize the Vatican authorities for their subservience to Beijing, in an interview with “The Tablet” on February 28.
Patten knows the Holy See well, having ben called by it in 2014 to chair a commission for the reform of the Vatican media. His interview with “The Tablet” followed shortly after the meeting – the first in history and therefore highly publicized – that took place in Munich on February 14 between Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and that of the Holy See, Paul Richard Gallagher. Patten noted that the name of the Chinese minister is the same as that of a Christian pastor sentenced to nine years in prison in December for subversion against the state authorities, in fact for expressing criticism of Xi Jinping’s policy: Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Covenant Church.
On Sunday 24 May, after the “Regina Coeli,” Pope Francis addressed words of greeting and support “in your trials of life” to Chinese Catholics, on the occasion of the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan.
But he said nothing of the repression that rages in Hong Kong, nor of another Marian shrine, that of Donglu, where instead the church was demolished due to the refusal of priests and faithful to join the patriotic Church association, the communist party’s arm of repression.
Nor did the pope say a word, this time or any other, about the fact that Shanghai bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin has been under house arrest since 2012 in Sheshan, for the sole fault of having resigned from the patriotic Church association on the day of his episcopal ordination.
Source: Settimo Cielo
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