The fact that Hong Kong’s bishop Joseph Zen was chosen as one of the new cardinals made by Benedict XVI in March is widely seen as one more indication of the Pope’s desire to reach out to China. Choosing a bishop either from Taiwan or from mainland China as a new Chinese cardinal would have been considered by Beijing as a provocation according to Gerard O’Connell writing in Ucanews. Selecting the bishop of Hong Kong (the largest Chinese diocese in the world, with 240,000 faithful) allowed at the same time consideration for the significance of China and signaled goodwill, since the Vatican is anxious to open direct negotiations.
On March 25, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, said that Benedict had a deep desire to travel to China. Moreover, he repeated that the Holy See was willing to transfer immediately the Apostolic Nunciature (i.e. Vatican’s embassy) from Taipei to Beijing, something which would represent an unprecedented move, since the Holy See has never broken diplomatic relations by its own initiative. Interestingly, efforts are also being made to prepare Taiwanese Catholics for such a move. On March 30, the Taipei Times reported that the Vatican’s charge d’affaires had stated that the relations remained stable between the Vatican and Taiwan, but that the time was ripe for an official dialogue with mainland China. Provided the religious freedom of Catholics on the continent would be guaranteed, the Holy See would be willing to move its embassy to Beijing. “The opportunity for success is greater now,” Cardinal Zen declared to the Taipei Times (March 31).
He added that Taiwanese Catholics would understand the sacrifice they would be required to make. It remains to be seen if Beijing will be responsive. The stakes are high, as another new cardinal, the Archbishop of Seoul, Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk, emphasized. By choosing three new cardinals from Asia (Hong Kong, Korea, Philippines), the Pope wanted to show that he shared John Paul II’s vision of the role of Asia for the third millennium: ” Ideally, the appointments could be seen as a wedge penetrating Asia”, the new cardinal commented in Asia News (March 24).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer