Cardinal Joseph Zen preaches a sermon during a Mass at the Holy Cross Church on May 24, 2022, in Hong Kong, China. / Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Rome Newsroom, Jan 3, 2023 / 04:38 am (CNA).

Cardinal Joseph Zen has said that he believes that the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be a “powerful intercessor in heaven” for the Catholic Church in China.

In a reflection posted on his blog on Jan. 3, Zen remembered Benedict XVI as a “great defender of the truth” who took “extraordinary” actions to support the Church in China, despite many setbacks.

“As a member of the Chinese Church, I am immensely grateful to Pope Benedict for things he has done that he did not do for other Churches,” Zen wrote.

The Hong Kong cardinal recalled in particular Benedict XVI’s 2007 Letter to China, which Zen called “a masterpiece of balance between the lucidity of Catholic ecclesiological doctrine and humble understanding with respect to civil authority.”

Zen also criticized “errors” in the Chinese translation of Benedict’s letter, which he said he believed contained “biased quotations against the obvious sense of the letter.”

“Another extraordinary thing he did for the Church in China is the establishment of a powerful commission to take care of the affairs of the Church in China; unfortunately under the new president of said commission it has been made to disappear quietly without even a word of respectful farewell,” the cardinal added.

Permission to attend funeral

The former bishop of Hong Kong, who was arrested last year under the city’s national security law, has been allowed by a local court to travel to Rome this week to be present at Benedict XVI’s funeral, according to AFP. After Zen’s passport was confiscated by authorities, a magistrate ruled on Jan. 3 that the 90-year-old cardinal is allowed to leave Hong Kong for five days for the Jan. 5 funeral of the former pope.

Benedict XVI created Zen a cardinal in 2006 and selected the cardinal to write the meditations for the papal Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in 2008, one year before Zen’s retirement as bishop of Hong Kong. 

Zen, who in his retirement has been an outspoken critic of the Holy See’s provisional agreement with Beijing, said that he did not believe that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI should have kept quiet after he resigned from the papacy.

“To me it seems quite the opposite: precisely because there is confusion in the Church, a pope emeritus, like every bishop and cardinal as long as they have breath and are in their right mind, must fulfill his duty as successor of the Apostles to defend the sound tradition of the Church,” he said.

“In crucial moments, even Pope Francis accepted this contribution of his predecessor, as when he defended the priestly celibacy of the Roman Church in the controversy over the proposal to ordain ‘viri probati,’” he added.

Zen underlined that he sees Benedict XVI as a pope who was “often misunderstood and sometimes not followed,” but said that it is “precisely in these cases, which seem to be failures, that I was able to admire his great fortitude and magnanimity in the face of setbacks.”

“Despite his great efforts, Pope Benedict failed to improve the situation of the Church in China. He could not accept just any compromise,” the Chinese cardinal said.

The cardinal, who was born in Shanghai, added that he is “convinced that every effort to improve the situation of the Church in China [in the future] will need to be taken in line with the 2007 letter.”

“As we remember the great pontiff, let us remember that we now have him as a powerful intercessor in heaven. With his intercession, we pray that all, the Church in Rome, the Church in China, and the Chinese authorities will be moved by God’s grace to bring about true peace for the Church and our homeland,” Zen said.