Cardinal Joseph Zen. | Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock.
Pope Francis yesterday said he is praying for the Church in China and “attentively and actively following the often complex life and situations of the faithful and pastors” there.
In brief remarks to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Regina Caeli prayer on May 22, the pope did not specifically mention the recent arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun in Hong Kong.
The 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong was arrested May 11 under China’s national security law with at least four others for his role as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong pay their legal fees. He was released on bail later that day.
Pope Francis did draw special attention to the fact that Tuesday, May 24 — when Cardinal Zen is reportedly due back in court — is the liturgical memorial of Our Lady, Help of Christians. Francis’ predecessor Benedict XVI decreed in 2007 that the date be observed worldwide as “a day of prayer for the Church in China.”
Chinese Catholics have a special devotion to Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated under that title at a Marian shrine in Shanghai, China.
“This coming Tuesday is the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin, Mary Help of Christians, particularly dear to Catholics in China who venerate Mary, Help of Christians as their Patroness in the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai, in many churches throughout the country, and in their homes,” Pope Francis said Sunday.
“This happy occasion offers me the opportunity to assure them once again of my spiritual closeness. I am attentively and actively following the often complex life and situations of the faithful and pastors, and I pray every day for them,” he said.
The pope continued, “I invite all of you to unite yourselves in this prayer so that the Church in China, in freedom and tranquillity, might live in effective communion with the universal Church, and might exercise its mission of proclaiming the Gospel to everyone, and thus offer a positive contribution to the spiritual and material progress of society, as well.”
Cardinal Zen, who has been critical of a provisional diplomatic agreement between the Holy See and China’s communist government, is an outspoken supporter of the pro-democracy movement.
In 2020, a sweeping National Security Law came into force, criminalizing previously protected civil liberties under the headings of “sedition“ and “foreign collusion.”