When Cardinal Dominik Duka of Prague challenged Chinese President Xi Jinping on religious freedom and human rights in China, the Czech prelate earned the strong endorsement of Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong. Cardinal Duka handed Xi a letter
during the president's three-day state visit to the Czech Republic March 28-30 detailing his concerns on rights in China. In an open statement explaining his action, Cardinal Duka
said, "As a representative of the Roman Catholic Church, I cannot ignore the fate of the brothers and sisters" in the church in China. Cardinal Duka's gesture was "easy to understand" based on his background as a priest during the Communist regime, which ruled his country from 1948-1993, Cardinal Zen told ucanews.com. His act was "beneficial" to religious freedom in China, the retired prelate said. Cardinal Duka entered the secret novitiate of the Dominican order in 1968 and was ordained a priest in 1970. In 1975 his "state approval of priestly service" was withdrawn by the Communists. He then lived an illegal religious life while working in an automobile factory for the next 15 years. He was imprisoned in 1981-1982 for publishing books in secret and for his involvement in the Dominican order
. Cardinal Duka said in his statement that he took the opportunity of the March 29 banquet in Prague Castle to hand Xi his letter and a book by Czech poet Bohuslav Reynek, whose works were banned by Czechoslovakia's Communist regime in 1948. "I wanted our Chinese guest to realize that in a democratic country, the church and believers belong inseparably to society," Cardinal Duka said. Cardinal Zen addressed an Easter statement
to the world's cardinals expressing his concern for the church in China. He said he was unaware if Cardinal Duka's actions were in response to his statement. Many cardinals responded and promised their prayers, he said. "Some cardinals may not know much [about] China but some of them understand, especially those who had suffered under a Communist regime," he said. In his article, Cardinal Zen questioned the "wave of optimism" for the current China-Vatican dialogue. "The [Chinese] government is continuously strengthening a church that now objectively is already separated from the universal Catholic Church; with enticements and threats they induce the clergy to perform acts contrary to the doctrine and discipline of the church, denying their conscience and their dignity," he wrote.