Originally posted by National Review here:
May 26, 2022
He knows that whatever evil befalls him in Hong Kong, God will ultimately use it for China’s good.
Have you ever met a living saint? I did, in November 2019, when I had the privilege to spend an evening with Cardinal Joseph Zen. The 90-year-old former bishop of Hong Kong, surely China’s most famous Catholic, is now awaiting trial on trumped-up national-security charges following his arrest in the communist-controlled city-state on May 11. Yet what I saw and heard from that humble man gives me confidence that he’s exactly where he wants to be — and hope for the future of Christianity in China.
My wife and I traveled to Hong Kong during the enormous protests over the infamous
extradition law, which marked a new level of Chinese domination over the once-autonomous city. We had always wanted to meet Cardinal Zen, and, with the city descending into despotism, we realized our window was closing. As soon as we arrived in Hong Kong, we were taken aback by the outpouring of democratic fervor that surrounded us.
In contrast to the chaos on the streets, meeting Cardinal Zen felt like entering an oasis. He introduced himself with his characteristic quietness and graciousness, asking about our health and safety while deflecting inquiries about his own. We were hosted by Cardinal Zen’s close friend and confidante, Jimmy Lai, a famous media entrepreneur and Catholic convert who is now in jail for daring to oppose the communist crackdown.
Before long, the conversation turned to the future of Hong Kong. Cardinal Zen predicted that the communist takeover would proceed to its natural and total conclusion, snuffing out the city’s freedom. He was especially worried about the several hundred thousand Catholics who call Hong Kong home. Many, like him and Jimmy Lai, were active and vocal in the movement opposing communist China. The cardinal feared that many would be thrown in prison while the rest would be forced to take their faith underground. He clearly thought that Hong Kong would soon be indistinguishable from the Chinese mainland, where communists sought to control religious believers and corrupt their faith, turning it into a tool of the state.
And yet, despite his dire warnings, Cardinal Zen smiled as he spoke. His words were pessimistic, but his attitude was pure optimism. He clearly perceived the persecution that was coming his way, and yet, far from sinking his spirits, it filled him with a sense of renewed purpose. He never said it out loud, but the feeling was palpable. The cardinal knew that in the coming suffering, he would help fulfill God’s plan.
Suffering is at the heart of Christianity, specifically the willing embrace of suffering. It was Christ Himself who took up the cross, knowing that it would be His death, and it is Christ who calls His followers to do the same. Cardinal Zen has answered that call. And like all Christians, he understands that just as Christ’s death opened the door to eternal life, his own sacrifice will somehow redound to the glory of God.
It’s not hard to see how. In arresting and imprisoning an ailing nonagenarian Catholic priest, communist China will cause its people to wonder: What does this man have that our supposedly all-powerful government so desperately fears? By hounding him to the end of his days, Beijing will make it more likely that the oppressed masses across China take interest in the Christian faith.
Jimmy Lai said in our meeting that while communist China “puts bread in the hands of the Chinese people,” it “cannot fill their hearts.” Cardinal Zen’s persecution, defined as it is by such overwhelming peace and joy, points to the true source of satisfaction in this life and the next. Far from snuffing out a blaze, Beijing may be igniting a fire that spreads to the hearts of the Chinese people, and perhaps even consumes that vile regime.
Cardinal Zen is now patiently awaiting trial. While he is out on bail, his days of freedom are surely numbered, since the outcome of his case is likely predetermined by the communists and collaborators who run Hong Kong. Yet I’m told by those close to him that he welcomes the chance to go to jail, where he can minister to the many members of his flock who are already there. Given the character of the man I met three years ago, I’m certain that Cardinal Zen believes his true calling is at hand. He knows that whatever evil befalls him in Hong Kong, God will ultimately use it for China’s good.
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