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Cardinal Joseph Zen speaks with LifeSiteNews in New York on February 14, 2020Jim Hale/LifeSiteNews

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VATICAN CITY, September 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Joseph Zen flew to Rome last week, hoping to deliver a letter to Pope Francis in person, but the Holy Father was “very busy” and could not receive him.

The 88-year-old Chinese cardinal had been permitted by the Chinese civil authorities to remain outside Hong Kong only 120 hours. 

Thus, the Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong was disappointed in his quest to ask the pontiff personally for a new ordinary to lead the Catholic Church in the Beijing-controlled territory. 

“It’s more than one and a half years that we have no bishop,” Cardinal Zen told the National Catholic Register (NCR) in Rome. 

“And now the whole atmosphere is very much political, so I would like to remind the Holy Father that we really need a bishop who is a good shepherd for the flock.”

The cardinal told NCR that he had given his letter to Pope Francis’s secretary. 

With Italian journalist Aldo Maria Valli, Cardinal Zen was more candid about its contents. 

“There was an idea to nominate Monsignor Joseph Ha, the auxiliary bishop [as archbishop],” he told Valli. 

“Now instead the odds are in [favor] of Monsignor Peter Choi, one of the four vicars, too close to Beijing. In the letter I warn the pope: nominating Choi will be a disaster,” he continued. 

“I stayed for the time permitted, but from Santa Marta [the hotel-home of Pope Francis] there was not even a nod.”

The cardinal also touched upon the agreement between the Holy See and the Communist Party of China, of which he has always been a fierce critic. Zen told Valli that it is “inconceivable” that the details of the two-year-old Sino-Vatican accord are still a secret even from people who “deal closely” with the problems that beset Catholics in communist-controlled China and Hong Kong. But he mentioned also that there are elements in China who don’t want any kind of agreement between the Church and the state: they would prefer to see the Church in China “controlled, and if necessary, crushed.” 

For his part, Zen is not interested in making agreements either. 

“Thinking of making deals with Beijing is crazy,” he told Valli. 

“You don’t make deals with the devil. You fight the devil and that’s it! The church does not take orders from governments, and this applies everywhere.”

Valli reported that Zen flew back to Hong Kong on September 27. 

In the NCR interview, part of which was broadcast last night on EWTN Nightly News, the cardinal detailed what kind of leadership Catholics in the former British colony need. 

“We really need a bishop who is a good shepherd for the flock,” Zen said. 

“I remember at the beginning of his pontificate [Pope Francis] gave many recommendations [of how bishops should be]. I hope he remembers all those things and really gives us a good bishop, and not pay too much attention to the political aspect of the problem,” he continued. 

“Maybe I am [a] little too much worried — the Pope knows that — but I think it is good for him to hear the voice of an old man who has been the Bishop of Hong Kong. I think even the Pope sometimes may need encouragement from people.” 

In this interview, Zen acknowledged that the pontiff did not have very much notice in advance of his four day visit, and assumed that he was too busy to see him. 

“But I’m satisfied that my letter has reached the Holy Father himself.” 

Italian Catholic commentator Marco Tosatti was severe in his appraisal of the pontiff’s inability to meet with the Chinese cardinal. 

“If the human quality of a person is seen in small details, I don’t know how someone should be judged – who is a boss – who cannot find half an hour in four days to meet with an elderly priest, who despite various health problems decided because of his love for the Church to undertake a journey from the other side of the world,” he wrote.  

“I understand that there may be people who are judged to be embarrassing, annoying, and so forth. But I seem to vaguely recall that among the works of mercy there is the one that calls us to put up with annoying people. Or even with those who are only subjectively considered to be so,” he continued. 

“But apparently during these days the reigning Pontiff was too preoccupied with beheading his collaborators to receive one of his most faithful and elderly advisers.”

Tosatti was referring to the recent resignation of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciù, the former Substitute for the Secretariat of the Holy See, who gave up his current role and his prerogatives as a cardinal after being accused by the pontiff of embezzlement. 

Correction 10-03-20 06:04 EDT: A previous edition of this article misidentified the Italian reporter who spoke with Cdl. Zen. LifeSite regrets the error.