Cardinal Zen recognized for work with prisoners
Hong Kong's former bishop receives surprise award
The cardinal is cherished by rights activists and leaders of other faiths
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the outspoken former bishop of Hong Kong, has been awarded a lifetime companionship award by the Chinese University of Hong Kong in recognition of decades of pastoral care for the territory’s prisoners.
Reverend Lo Lung-kwong, director of the university’s divinity school, said that the cardinal had shown himself to be a leader of the wider Christian Churches – not just of Catholicism – after announcing the surprise award on Wednesday.
“Though the prelate may be controversial within local society, from the angle of faith he is a man with morality, courage and wisdom,” said the Protestant pastor.
Cardinal Zen is famous for speaking out on political freedom, human rights and religious persecution during his six and half years as bishop of Hong Kong up to his retirement in September, 2009, often attracting criticism from Beijing in response.
His willingness to get involved in debates over the territory’s political future has made him a darling of pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong.
After he fled from Shanghai to Hong Kong to escape the victorious Communists in the early 1950s, Zen became a priest in 1961 and began visiting inmates at three prisons on an outlying island of the former British territory.
When he became a coadjutor bishop in 1996 a year before Hong Kong was handed back to China, he expanded his visits to other prisons. Since retirement, he has continued to meet inmates twice every month.
Last month, the 81-year-old cardinal invited Pope Francis to join a fundraising drive started in 2009 to donate more than 10,000 moon cakes – traditionally given every year during the Moon Festival national holiday – to all correctional facilities in Hong Kong.
After the Pope gave 500 euros (US$688) instead of the two euros requested, Zen eventually returned 5,000 euros left over from the appeal after it was oversubscribed.
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