Updated: January 25, 2019 04:36 AM GMT
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun (center) takes part in a Hong Kong protest over religious freedom in mainland China in July 2012. It followed reports of the disappearance of a Chinese bishop and a priest amid a new row with the Vatican. (Photo by Philippe Lopez/AFP)
Outspoken Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun will receive the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation 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, who is already in the United States for the ceremony, has repeatedly written articles opposing the Vatican-China provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops and voiced the concerns of China's underground church.
Marion Smith, executive director of the foundation, said that "Cardinal Zen has given voice to those denied religious liberty in China and has opposed the collusion of the Vatican and Chinese Communist Party on the matter of ecclesiastical appointments."
The foundation described Cardinal Zen as the "new conscience of Hong Kong" and a vocal proponent of human rights in Hong Kong and mainland China.
"He has criticized the Communist Party's crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 and the brutal treatment of the Falun Gong spiritualist movement," it said.
"Zen remains an influential voice for freedom in China and has led pro-democracy protests and demonstrations in Hong Kong since 2002."
As a Washington-based, non-profit educational and human rights organization, the foundation was authorized by a unanimous act of Congress in 1993 signed by President Bill Clinton. It is devoted to commemorating more than 100 million victims of communism around the world and to the freedom of those still living under totalitarian regimes.
Past religious laureates include Pope St. John Paul II, Romania's Bishop Laszlo Tokes, Vietnamese priest Nguyen Van Ly and Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng. Chinese dissident Yang Jianli and Chinese human rights activist Wei Jingsheng also received the award.
On Jan. 22, Cardinal Zen wrote a blog saying that the Sino-Vatican agreement still leaves lots of questions to be clarified. How should the open and underground churches unite? Should the underground church join the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association?
Cardinal Zen also queried an article written by Father Paul Gan last October saying that once diplomatic relations between the Vatican and China were established, the bishops of Hong Kong and Macao could both join the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China.
He asked: "Hasn't Gan heard of one country and two systems? Or maybe he already knew that it was a deception? Under such circumstances, the next bishop of Hong Kong Diocese certainly needs Beijing's blessing."
He urged Catholics on the mainland not to act hastily and to be patient before the uncertainty is cleared.
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