Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun received the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in United States capital Washington on Jan. 28. The medal is awarded each year to those individuals and institutions who have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to freedom and democracy and opposition to communism and all other forms of tyranny, according to the foundation's website. The 87-year-old emeritus bishop of Hong Kong has repeatedly written articles opposing the Vatican-China provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops and voiced the concerns of China's underground Catholic Church. Here is the speech he gave at the award ceremony:
I quote from Isaiah (61:1): “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
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In human history there were always the poor, the prisoners, the oppressed. The Industrial Revolution was unfortunately accompanied by an upsurge of wild capitalism. The capitalists, in possession of the means of production, exploited the proletariat, kept them under slavery. Karl Marx
came on the scene as a prophet. He preached liberation through class struggle, which means bloody revolution. The medicine was worse than the illness. Violence was never a solution to any problem. The problem is in human hearts: selfishness, greed. Without a loving heart, any system is doomed to become inhuman. The communists preach equality, they preach fraternity, but they destroy the foundation of equality and brotherhood which resides in our human dignity rooted in our common origin from Our Father in Heaven. All the communist countries, to our knowledge, achieved only equal poverty for everybody. Their main exports are human beings fleeing from the communist paradise (before they abandoned Marxism). I have not suffered personally from the Chinese Communist Party. I came to Hong Kong in 1948 (to join the Salesian Novitiate). The communists took power only in 1949, the following year. My relatives suffered as all families suffered under that inhuman regime, especially my brother-in-law, husband of my elder sister, the sweetest 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 a railway, work under the sun. They even shaved his head. After a couple of months, they released him, sent him back home, again without any explanation. My younger brother, a brilliant student at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, gradated in naval engineering. But they refused to give him the diploma and sent him to work far away from Shanghai in Fujian, a very poor place. They said it was because he was being trained as an agent in Hong Kong. The so-called dictatorship of the proletariat, which is supposed to be provisional according to Marx, turned out to be the communist empire. I had the opportunity to visit my native city Shanghai in 1974 (after 26 years of absence) before the end of the Cultural Revolution
. We did not know why they opened the door ajar for Hong Kong people who dared to go. It was beyond imagination. The whole country was a concentration camp. All religions had disappeared. The churches were either closed with seals or turned into factories, godowns (warehouses) or other uses. My parish church was a “people’s club” where people could get some simple food and recreational facilities. With the open policy things were very different. I applied to teach in Shanghai Seminary in 1984 and permission came in late 1988. I went to Shanghai in the autumn of 1989, right after the Tiananmen Square event, when everybody was getting out of China. They treated me very kindly. Later they invited me to teach in other seminaries: Xian, Wuhan, Shijiazhuang, Beijing, Shenyang. I could teach in China, six months per year, for seven years (1989-96). They treated me very kindly but I could see how they ill-treat and humiliate our people in our Catholic Church: harassment to those underground (coming out from prison or labor camps after more than 20 years, surviving their many companions in prison), no respect even for the bishops in the official Church (similarly survivors of prison and labor camps). Today very little remains of true Marxism, but the atheist, persecuting dictatorship remains intact. You know the recent tightening of control on all religions
in China. You know also the situation in Hong Kong, where very little remains of the promised high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong is soon to become just one of the cities in China. I am here today to receive gratefully the medal not in my honor, because I paid almost nothing for my freedom, but for those who really suffered a lack of freedom in China and in Hong Kong. I receive the medal for those who deserve it but cannot come here to accept it. I want to remember all those heroes who offered their lives for the cause of human dignity and freedom. We do not mourn them; they are in God’s blossom in eternal bliss. Those who tried to destroy their dignity only humiliated and degraded themselves. I want to remember all those heroes who are suffering in China and in Hong Kong for voicing their respect for human dignity, for freedom and for democracy, those well-known and those anonymous heroes. May my presence here today confirm your noble work in their support and may our presence today and our prayers every day bring them comfort and strength. May God bless us all.