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World News

Hong Kong's Cardinal Zen meets Pope Francis after temporary return of passport

by Donna Birrell

A 90 year old Cardinal who was arrested under Hong Kong's strict National Security law has met Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Cardinal Joseph Zen who is Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong and one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholics, was in Rome to attend the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI last week. The Hong Kong authorities temporarily released his passport for five days to allow him to travel to Italy.

His private meeting with Pope Francis is said to have taken place on Friday at the Vatican’s Santa Marta guesthouse.    

Describing the meeting, Cardinal Zen told the Jesuit-run America magazine : "It was wonderful. He was so very warm!”  

Cardinal Zen was arrested in Hong Kong last year over a now-disbanded fund that is said to have helped pro-democracy protesters. He is among scores of democracy campaigners facing legal threats from China after the protests in Hong Kong in 2019.

Reflecting on the papacy of Benedict XV1, Cardinal Zen wrote in his blog that Benedict XVI was 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.” 

Pope Francis has sought to improve ties with Beijing in recent years and Cardinal Zen has accused the Vatican of not doing enough to support China's underground Catholic community..

Cardinal Zen is believed to have departed Rome to return to Hong Kong on Saturday 7 January.

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