VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his spiritual closeness to Catholics in China, expressing hope that the church there would operate in “freedom and tranquility,” but making no mention of a cardinal 90-year-old who was recently arrested in Hong Kong.
Addressing the public gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Pontiff’s traditional Sunday remarks, Francis noted that the church celebrates “Blessed Mother Mary, Help of Christians” on May 24, and recalled that Mary is the patron saint of Catholics in China. .
“The joyful circumstance offers me the opportunity to renew to them the assurance of my spiritual closeness,” the pontiff said. He added that “I follow with attention and participation the life and affairs of the faithful and pastors, often complex, and I pray for them every day.”
Cardinal Joseph Zen was arrested on May 11 along with at least three others on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces to endanger China’s national security. He was released later that night.
Zen was scathing in his criticism of China and lambasted the Vatican’s 2018 deal with China on the appointment of bishops in that country. He called the deal, which is up for renewal this year, a sellout of Christians who worship in underground congregations in China to avoid harassment by Communist regime authorities.
In his address, Francis invited the faithful present in the square to join him in prayer, “so that the Church in China, in freedom and tranquility, may live in effective communion with the universal Church and may exercise its mission of announcing the Gospel to all, thus making a positive contribution to the spiritual and material progress of society.
The Vatican-China deal aims to reduce tensions over China’s insistence on influence over the appointment of bishops, which the Vatican says is the prerogative of pontiffs.
The Vatican has argued that the agreement prevents an even deeper schism in the Chinese church after Beijing has in the past appointed bishops without the pope’s consent. The agreement regularized the status of seven of these “illegitimate” bishops and brought them into full communion with the pope.
The arrests, including Zen’s, in Hong Kong have extended a sweeping crackdown on all forms of dissent, penetrating deeper into the city’s long-standing economic, religious and educational institutions.
The Vatican said it learned of Zen’s arrests with “concern” and is following “the situation with extreme attention.”
Frances D’emilio, Associated Press