Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong since 2009, was arrested on May 11th by the Chinese authorities, along with other pro-democracy activists on suspicion of undermining national security and colluding with foreign countries. The cardinal and his companions were released on bail the same day.
The cardinal was subsequently required to appear in court on Tuesday, May 24th, along with four other defendants who were members of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, a fund which was set up to provide financial, medical, and judiciary assistance to victims of the repression on the 2019-2020 protests. The fund had been dissolved by the Chinese government in 2021.
In the end, the Chinese government did not bring forth the anticipated charges of undermining national security and colluding with foreign agents. The five defendants therefore do not fall under the national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020—which could have led to life imprisonment. Instead, they are being prosecuted for failing to register the humanitarian fund with the police. They have pleaded not guilty to this charge. The prosecutor’s office said it had ten boxes of evidence and eight hours of video footage to support the charges. They face a fine of up to $1,274.
The trial is scheduled to take place on September 19th. It will begin precisely when the Vatican is due to renew its controversial agreement with the Beijing government—which had been severely criticised by Cardinal Zen.
After his presentation to the tribunal, Cardinal Zen celebrated a Mass for China. May 24th is traditionally a feast particularly dear to the hearts of Chinese Catholics. It is the feast of Mary Help of Christians, patroness of the Sheshan shrine in Shanghai and artfully displayed in many homes.
Several European diplomats from France, Italy, and Sweden were present in court to assist the cardinal during his appearance.
On Sunday, May 22th, Pope Francis had a special thought for China in his message to the faithful after the Regina Caeli prayer:
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. 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. 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.
The Vatican continues to follow the events “with extreme attention.”