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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006, 19:34 GMT
Profile: Cardinal Zen
Cardinal Joseph Zen
Cardinal Zen is an outspoken advocate of democracy
In elevating Hong Kong bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun to the post of cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI - who was once known as God's Rottweiler - knows he has picked someone hardly less tenacious.

His promotion means the relationship between China and the Vatican could change dramatically - though whether for the better or worse remains to be seen.

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

Cardinal Zen, 74, who receives his cardinal's red hat at his investiture at the Vatican on Friday, insists his elevation is a sign of the Pope's determination to improve relations with China.

He called it "a sign of special benevolence of the Holy Father for the Chinese people".

'Voice the truth'

The 300,000 Catholics in Hong Kong are freer than in the rest of China.

However, the cardinal has always been an outspoken critic of the Chinese government, and he has given few signs that he will soften his approach now he is in a more high-profile position.

"We should learn from the Holy Father's example of clearly voicing the truth without being afraid of the opposing currents," he said on learning of his appointment.

Asked whether he would temper his opinions he replied: "I am over 70 - there are things that will be hard to change."

To some, his elevation appears to be something of a provocation.

"We advocate that religious figures should not interfere with politics," said a Beijing spokesman when the promotion was announced.


Joseph Zen Ze-kiun was born to a middle-class Catholic family in Shanghai in 1932.

He studied in a seminary in Hong Kong during British rule, and eventually became provincial superior of the Salesian order for mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

After Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997, his outspoken support for democracy put him in direct opposition to Beijing.

He played a high-profile role in the mass pro-democracy rally of July 2003, and became one of the spiritual and moral voices of the democrats.

He has openly criticised the Beijing-backed chief executive of Hong Kong, Donald Tsang - a good friend and practising Catholic - for his eagerness to please Beijing, and his failure to push for a democratic Hong Kong.

Whether he remains in Hong Kong or is posted to the Vatican, he looks set to make some waves between Rome and Beijing.

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