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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 February 2006, 11:00 GMT
China warns Hong Kong cardinal
Bishop Joseph Zen
Bishop Zen is an outspoken advocate of democracy
China has warned Hong Kong's newly-appointed cardinal, Joseph Zen, not to get involved in politics.

"We advocate that religious figures should not interfere with politics," said government spokesman Liu Jianchao.

Bishop Zen, a well-known critic of China's suppression of religious and political freedoms, said he would stick to his outspoken style.

"I am over 70, there are things that will be hard to change," he told reporters in Hong Kong.

The cardinal-designate also said he hoped to help establish official ties between the Vatican and Beijing.

China only allows its Catholics to worship in state-sanctioned churches, and bans all contact with the Vatican.

But it has allowed Hong Kong's 300,000 Catholics to continue to practise their faith freely, in accordance with the high degree of autonomy promised under the territory's mini-constitution when it reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

'Special benevolence'

Bishop Zen was nominated a cardinal on Wednesday, by Pope Benedict XVI, and he is due to assume the position next month.

The outspoken cleric said his appointment signalled the importance the Pope attached to China, calling it "a sign of special benevolence of the Holy Father for the Chinese people".

He said he hoped a rapprochement could be worked out between the Vatican and Beijing.

He said there was "a will on both sides" to repair ties, and claimed that two often-cited stumbling blocks - the Vatican's recognition of Taiwan and China's desire to have a say in the appointment of bishops - could be resolved.

But he admitted it would not be easy for China to grant complete religious freedom.

"The Chinese churches have already lived in a very special situation for a long time. The state controls the churches tightly, so to normalise the situation suddenly, to allow total religious freedom like in other countries isn't a simple matter," he said.

What is your reaction to China's warning to Cardinal Zen? Do you think he should get involved in political matters? Are you a Catholic in Hong Kong? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below.

I have previously written to Bishop Zen on several occasions asking that he should refrain from politics particularly local party politics. There are a number of political parties in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a very free society. There is no need for him to become an agitator and an activist. None of the other religious leaders in Hong Kong has done similar anti-government activities.
H. Yik, Ottawa, Canada

China should cease to intefere with Hong Kong's internal affairs. What a Hong Kong citizen does in exercising his freedom of speech is none of Beijing's business. This is something that the Chinese seem to have difficulty understanding.
Bobby, Hong Kong/Sydney

Obviously religious figures should not interfere with politics. If it does so, it should be banned straight away. I think the way Chinese government treat this matter is appropriate.
Jerry Chang, China

China's warning only will make us, the warm-blooded Chinese people of Hong Kong and the mainland's underground Chinese Catholics feeling that Cardinal Joseph Zen is another role model of African-American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Lurther King Jr. We congratulate Zen and feeling very proud of a Chinese Cardinal is born-again Christian in China, he is Joseph Zen, our civil rights leader.
Ka Wah Chan, Fremont, California, U.S.A.

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