Two Catholic prelates have raised concerns over harm to Chinese Church unity on the eve of a scheduled illicit episcopal ordination in Guangdong province. Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong urged all local Catholics to pray for “brothers and sisters in mainland China” so that they maintain their faith. He described previous illicit ordinations last November and last month, as well as the one scheduled for tomorrow in Shantou diocese, as “sad and sorrowful situations.” The ordinations were illicit and totally manipulated by the Chinese government without papal approval, Bishop Tong wrote in a message published on the website of the diocesan Chinese weekly Kung Kao Po
and distributed to all 51 parishes. Bishop Tong’s predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, today published an advertisement in a popular newspaper here in his personal capacity to urge China’s state leaders to respect religious freedom. The half-page advertisement in Apple Daily
was addressed to China’s president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao. The advertisement expresses concern over some government officials who violate the country’s constitution and help some “scum in the Church” to force bishops, priests and laypeople to act against their consciences. “They are trapping you in an unjust act. Please halt them immediately!” the 79-year-old cardinal wrote. About 60,000 copies of the appeal letter will be printed with news reports about the recent illicit ordinations in Handan, Leshan and Shantou dioceses as well as persecutions of Catholic clergy in northern Hebei province. Most of the copies will be distributed to street vendors and parishioners beginning tomorrow. Members of St. Vincent de Paul Society in Hong Kong held a Mass this evening at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception to pray for the communion of the Church in China. The International Catholic Association, which has worked with the four Guangdong bishops on charity services, said they would pray that the Holy Spirit would guide the bishops out of their present difficulties. Shantou is a popular pilgrimage site for many Hong Kong Catholics. But not many of them know that the upcoming ordination will be held without a papal mandate and that bishops have been pressured to participate in the ceremony, Church sources said.