Cardinal Faults Chinese Rulers at Anniversary of Tiananmen [NY Times] 2006.06.05
05, Jun 2006 13:09
Wearing the red and white robes he was given when Benedict appointed him a cardinal in March, Cardinal Zen went from celebrating Mass at the cathedral here to a prayer meeting on a concrete-floored, indoor basketball court next door. There he defended the students who died in the suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in and around Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, whom the Beijing government has labeled counterrevolutionaries seeking to overthrow the state.
"All they asked for was a clean government — is that a sin?" Cardinal Zen said. "And what they wished for was a strong nation — is that a sin? All we're doing is pursuing their aspirations."
But Cardinal Zen questioned whether the new prosperity in China was enough to maintain the Communist Party's legitimacy. He cited coal mine disasters and consumer safety scandals in recent years that have embarrassed China.
"Yes, the economy has improved and some people have earned lots of money, but corruption abounds, the gap in wealth is huge, mines keep swallowing workers and fake milk powder and fake medicines are flooding the market — is this considered an improvement?" he said. "If they had listened to the kind advice of the students and workers, would today's country be a better country?"
Liu Bainian, the secretary general of the government-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in Beijing, expressed surprise that Cardinal Zen had spoken out. "According to God's holy teachings, what belongs to Caesar should be left with Caesar, and what belongs to God should be left with God," he said in a telephone interview.
Pope Benedict's decision to elevate Cardinal Zen this spring has antagonized China and raised his visibility considerably. As late as Saturday afternoon, diocese officials here did not know if the Vatican would allow him to fly here this morning from Rome and attend the afternoon prayer meeting.
Mainland officials have occasionally suggested that Cardinal Zen makes intemperate remarks on the spur of the moment. But the cardinal read from a prepared text at the prayer meeting, and his aides distributed copies. He did not take questions.
Mr. Liu, a longtime rival of Cardinal Zen, questioned whether the cardinal's remarks would disrupt contacts between the Vatican and Beijing. "I believe the Vatican will not support him," Mr. Liu said.
The Vatican has long kept silent regarding Cardinal Zen's statements about China. But his elevation to cardinal has been widely viewed as a sign of Pope Benedict's support. A Vatican spokesman could not be reached on Sunday for comment.
The Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong has commemorated each anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings since 1990. Cardinal Zen, who became the bishop of Hong Kong in 1996 and took over full control of the diocese in September 2002, has been especially vocal at the anniversaries since 2003, the year Hong Kong's own democracy movement enjoyed a brief moment of influence.
Hong Kong has been an autonomous region of China since 1997, when Britain returned it to China.
About 120 people attended the prayer meeting, which was organized with little notice. After sunset, a throng joined the annual Tiananmen Square candlelight vigil here. Cardinal Zen did not attend the vigil, which had not been organized by the church. The vigil's organizers, a group that has supported the students' cause since 1989, estimated the crowd at 44,000 people. The Hong Kong police put it at 19,000.
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