Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, shared this moment in a meeting with about a hundred Hong Kong Catholics at a prayer meeting held for the Church in China on Tuesday.
In his address, he also spoke about Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Letter to the Church in China, in which the Holy Father called on Christians to set aside 24 May as a special day of veneration to the Marian shrine of Sheshan, which is near Shanghai.
In the letter, the Holy Father wrote, “24 May could in the future become an occasion for the Catholics of the whole world to be united in prayer with the Church which is in China”.
Chinese Catholics in Italy observed this day of prayer for China on 8 and 9 May. They also used the occasion to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Father Matteo Ricci, a native of Macerata (Italy).
Card Zen told the prayer gathering that mainland bishops are feeling “desolate” since they are controlled and pressured by the authorities; nevertheless, he urged them not be afraid and remain true to their principles. Recently, some unlawfully ordained bishops tried to co-celebrate during the installation service of some bishops approved by the Holy See.
In his intervention, Cardinal Zen also referred to a statement released by the Vatican’s China Commission, which met in March 2010. In it, the commission called on mainland bishops to maintain their dignity and responsibility as leaders of their respective communities, avoiding gestures that run counter to the communion with the Pope, such as talking part in Episcopal ordinations, co-celebrations and meetings involving unlawfully ordained bishops.
During the prayer, organised by the Diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission, a video clip was shown of Bishop Han Dingxiang of Yongnian who died in detention in 2007 as well as pictures of missing Bishop Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding and Bishop Su Zhimin of Baoding. The Chinese government does not recognise any of the three.
An audio message was also played. In it, two mainland Catholics spoke about their life and faith, underscoring the lonely existence endured by some priests as well as their limited spiritual training.
They explained that rural Catholic communities still pray and attend Mass and that Catholic students and young workers are actively in involved in evangelisation and faith training in the cities.
During the vigil, participants prayed for religious freedom in China, especially for detained Catholics, priestly vocations and better religious education, as well as for unity and solidarity in Church communities.
They also placed lit candles on top of a map of China, singling out specific provinces for which they will pray on 24 May.
Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, secretary of Propaganda Fide, celebrated Mass in Hong Kong’s St Jude Church on the Solemnity of Mary Help of Christians. During the service, he mentioned Fr Peter Yu Heping, who died in mysterious circumstances in 2015, but had great faith in the future of the Church in China.