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Human rights heroes Cardinal Joseph Zen and Chen Guangcheng meeting in-person for the first time in Washington, D.C. Jan. 28, 2019. Anita Crane © 2019. All rights reserved.
Anita Crane

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The day two of China’s greatest heroes — a cardinal and blind activist — met and shook hands

Anita Crane
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Chen Guangcheng and Weijing Yuan after meeting Cardinal Joseph Zen in Washington, D.C. Anita Crane © 2019. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – On Monday, January 28, history was made when two heroes met, and a heroine joined them in the same room: Chen Guangcheng went to meet Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was awarded by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (VOC) with their highest honor, the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom, and Chen’s wife Weijing Yuan joined him there. Zen, Chen, and Yuan are real heroes because they put their lives on the line to save Chinese people of all ages, from little unborn babies and their mothers to adults who want fundamental human rights and the freedom to seek the meaning of life.

Of course Cardinal Zen is bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, and in 2012 blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng dramatically escaped house arrest with the help of his wife just before then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton went to Beijing for a diplomatic visit. Chen, along with his wife and children, were granted asylum in the United States, where he is a visiting law fellow at the Catholic University of America. Before they met, both men were kindred spirits on account of them being expert firsthand witnesses who did everything in their power to warn Pope Francis about the dangers of letting the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule the Catholic Church in China.

On January 10, 2018, Cardinal Zen went to Pope Francis at the Vatican, met with him for 30 minutes, and gave him a warning letter about the CCP with his pleas not to let the CCP control the Church. Because Vatican officials persisted in negotiations with the dishonest CCP, Zen wrote articles. As a result, the Vatican shuns Cardinal Zen.

As another result, VOC’s ceremony for Cardinal Zen was packed wall-to-wall. American politicians were there, Chinese citizens, and fans from other Asian nations such as Taiwan. In 2015, VOC gave Chen Guangcheng the same award. So when VOC announced that Chen was there, the audience cheered. Then, after his speech, Cardinal Zen moved as quickly as possible to meet Chen and a dense group pressed against them while they spoke in Chinese. Cardinal Zen spoke to me there in English and after VOC produced their video of Cardinal Zen’s speech, I interviewed Mr. Chen thanks to his translator Danica Mills.

The crux for Zen and Chen

On September 22, 2018, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin vaguely announced their Provisional Agreement with the Chinese government. Parolin also said:

The objective of the Holy See is a pastoral one: the Holy See intends just to create the condition, or help to create the condition, of a greater freedom, autonomy and organization, in order that the Catholic Church can dedicate itself to the mission of announcing the Gospel and also to contribute to the well-being and to the spiritual and material prosperity and harmony of the country, of every person and of the world as a whole.

Two days before the announcement, Zen held a media conference and called for Parolin to resign because “A church enslaved by the government is no real Catholic Church.” The day of the Vatican’s announcement, Zen passionately decried the legal weakness of the treaty and he’s most alarmed because Catholics can’t know when the CCP will persecute them for allegedly violating secret terms.

When a journalist asked Pope Francis about Cardinal Zen’s objections, the pope praised Parolin and the Communists:

This went ahead two steps and back one, two ahead and back one. Then, months passed without speaking to each other, and then the time of God, which appears to be [the time of the] Chinese. Slowly. This is wisdom, the wisdom of the Chinese. And the bishops who were in difficulty were studied case by case and in the case of the bishops, in the end dossiers came on to my desk about each one. And I was responsible for signing the case of the bishops.

Zen and Chen find the agreement absurd because the CCP is an atheist and tyrannical government. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church opposes all forms of tyranny, including atheist collectivism, also known as Marxism, socialism, and communism. In China, the CCP runs a fake Catholic Church called the Catholic Patriotic Association and never before the reign of Francis has the Vatican allowed China’s Communist government to control the Catholic Church there.

During secret negotiations, the Vatican sent Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, to China and he said this and other bizarre things:

Right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese.

In his February 2018 article “The Vatican Plans to Make a Deal with the Devil,” Chen warned Pope Francis about Sorondo’s approval of China’s violence against all human rights, including her massive abortion and organ harvesting holocausts.

In part, Chen explained: “Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo went to China and attended a conference on organ donation and transplantation. At that time he praised China for setting up a global best practice model for eradicating organ trafficking. He also said that China today is not the one where John Paul II was the Pope from 1978 to 2005, nor the Soviet Union during the Cold War."

“Sorondo’s willful ignorance is beyond disgusting. I would like to ask him: ‘Did you know that, last year, 32 college students in Wuhan inexplicably went missing?’ The CCP did not provide any leads in spite of the ‘Sky Eye Project’ (the CCP uses the grid in which it controls hundreds of millions of cameras to follow the movements of everyone in society). Instead it detained the reporters who called for support for the parents who lost their children!"

“In China, many children were stolen or snatched while playing in the street. Their organs were later removed and sold,” he wrote.

After the Vatican-China agreement, the CCP oppressed Catholics worse than before as they banned children from Mass, destroyed churches and shrines, and arrested priests, to name just a few attacks. China has a long record of arresting and enslaving its citizens and even visitors in labor camps. Cardinal Zen’s beloved brother-in-law was one of those slaves. Before Chen, one of China’s former slaves, the late Catholic human rights activist Harry Wu, came to the United States and exposed China’s brutalities because “As a human being, as a believer in God, I have to do something. I could have easily died in the camps. So, who is Harry Wu? No one, if not someone for these millions of faceless, nameless, voiceless people.”

Today, the crises and the pleas of Catholics in China who feel betrayed by the Vatican are readily available from Asia News and UCAN, The Union of Catholic Asian News. For example, Bishop Peter Jin Lugang of Nanyang is the underground bishop recognized by the Catholic Patriotic Association on January 30, and he begs Pope Francis for a way not to belong to it.

After Francis signed the agreement, Chen called it “A Pact with a Thief, a Deal with the Devil” and he said:

Not only does the action of the CCP selecting Catholic bishops represent a major decline for the Vatican, but it is the equivalent of bowing before evil, of selling God to the devil. Does the Vatican not know that the Communist Party controls everything in China? ... This will become yet another shameful episode whose stain the Catholic Church will be unable to cleanse.

While Chen’s authentic witness is powerful, his op-ed above calls for a correction on Church history, especially on Pope Pius XII. For decades, Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic scholars have published evidence that Venerable Pius XII saved many Jews from the Nazis but some people still slander him as “Hitler’s pope.” Thankfully, on March 4, Pope Francis ordered the Vatican’s Secret Archives to open the records of Pius XII’s entire papacy starting March 20, 2020, and the truth should prove to be enthralling. Lastly, Jews weren’t Hitler’s only victims. Hitler planned to destroy the Catholic Church and he murdered countless Catholics to prove it.

Given the pope’s rejection of his advice, Cardinal Zen continued pleading for justice. October 24, 2018, The New York Times published his analysis “The Pope Doesn’t Understand China,” where he says:

Pope Francis, an Argentine, doesn’t seem to understand the Communists. He is very pastoral, and he comes from South America, where historically military governments and the rich got together to oppress poor people. And who there would come out to defend the poor? The Communists. Maybe even some Jesuits, and the government would call those Jesuits Communists.

The Zen and Chen interviews

At the VOC reception, Cardinal Zen briefly told me that while he believes Pope Francis has good intentions, the people who “surround him” know the reality of the CCP and they have their “own agenda.” He has mused that he’s not silent like his namesake Saint Joseph. Therefore, in reply to Pope Francis’s rejection, Zen wrote the new book “For the Love of My People I Will Not Keep Silent.” It’s published in Chinese and English, and you may read an excerpt in Zen’s article “What the Church is risking in its dialogue with China.”

I requested to interview both Chen Guangcheng and Weijing Yuan because, even though Chen is the public spokesman in their family, they proved themselves equal, complementary partners in their dangerous mission to secure human rights. For example, Yuan co-authored their beautiful book “The Barefoot Lawyer: A Blind Man’s Fight for Freedom and Justice in China,” but only Chen is named as the author. As it turned out, only Chen answered my questions.

So what did Chen discuss with Zen at their historic meeting?

As the photo above shows, their meeting was joyful. Chen first explained to Zen that the publisher of his new book asked him for a promo blurb, but he didn’t get the request in time.

Chen then told Cardinal Zen: “I said I had read the draft of your book, and learned about how you were pressing for freedom of religion, rule of law, and human rights, and had done some really important work in those areas, completely fearlessly. And how you had asked to meet with the pope and urged him to stand up for human rights when thinking about the relationship with the Chinese Communist Party, and also how in your speech you had talked about some issues related to the CCP’s human rights violations in China."

“I also said that in the past few years I had known about the work he had done to support and appeal for human rights. And I used my own experience to tell him that these things were really useful, and how in China, when people speak out it really does make a difference, even if it doesn’t result in the authoritarian CCP being pulled out of power," he continued.

“I also brought up that in 2005, when we were fighting against the violent one-child policy campaigns, because of our efforts in two years, because they were battling against me and repressing me, they ended up relaxing their enforcement of the one-child policy with the result that in our area some 90,000 children were allowed to live. When Cardinal Zen heard this, he was very moved and surprised. He said our work was truly virtuous and charitable,” he added.

When Cardinal Zen called Chen’s and Yuan’s work “charitable,” it was the highest praise because he was speaking about the deepest love called “charity,” which is “the habit or power which disposes us to love God above all creatures for Himself, and to love ourselves and our neighbors for the sake of God.”

Likewise, I told Chen and Yuan that their work is in keeping with Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. I said the same to Mr. Chen when I met him after his 2017 speech at the Westminster Institute, where I thanked him and asked him to also thank his heroic wife. I then invited him and his wife to become Catholic because they already act saintly. Obviously, Chen is appalled by the Vatican-China agreement and Cardinal Sorondo. So I again invited him and Yuan to consider becoming Catholic because I believe that if they know the fullness of truth about Christ and His relationship with us, they will find great peace and joy.

 “As for what I was saying at the Westminster Institute (See full text of speech), I said that I am a spiritual person, and that I believe that there is a spiritual power greater than our human world out there in the universe,” Chen answered. “But despite having these spiritual beliefs, I am not a follower of any specific religion or god. So, even though some of the work I have done seems very close to some people’s religious beliefs, I think it is just that there is some resonance there. But I don’t believe in any specific religion at this time.”

Now Guangcheng knows Cardinal Zen, and much could come from their friendship.

Cardinal Zen’s humble speech

Cardinal Zen said this in his VOC award acceptance speech:

I have not suffered directly personally from the Communists. I came to Hong Kong in 1948 to join the Salesian Society, and the Communists took power only in 1949, the following year. My family suffered, as all families suffered under that inhumane system. My brother-in-law, husband of my elder sister, a most sweet person, one day they came to arrest him without saying a word, without saying of which crime he was accused. They sent him to work for the construction or repair of railway. They shaved his head, working under the sun, and then after a couple of months they released him and sent him back home. Again, without any explanation. …

I am here to receive, gratefully, the medal; not in my honor, because I have almost paid nothing for my freedom, but for all those who suffered really for the freedom in China and in Hong Kong. I receive the medal for all those who really deserve it, but they cannot come here to accept it. I want to remember all those heroes who offered their life for the cause of human dignity and freedom. We don’t mourn them, because they are in God’s bosom in eternal bliss. And we understand that those who try to harm their dignity, they only humiliated and degraded themselves.

I want to remember many of those heroes who are suffering in this moment in China or in Hong Kong for voicing their claim for respect of their dignity, for freedom, and for democracy. Those well known and those anonymous heroes. May my presence here today confirm your noble work in the efforts to support all those people and may our presence here today and our prayer every day bring them comfort and strength. May God bless you all.

Watch Cardinal Zen’s complete speech in VOC’s video below. Lee Edwards, the Catholic founder and chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, introduces Cardinal Zen by recognizing his legacy.

Anita Crane is a writer, editor and digital media producer with a B.A. in Catholic Theology from Christendom College. See more about her work at anitacrane.com and email her at anita(at)anitacrane.com.

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