- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Vatican yesterday was accused of currying favor with China by “censoring” the Easter reflections for last night’s solemn Good Friday service at the Colosseum that Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong wrote at the request of Pope Benedict XVI.

But many commentators insist the choice of the outspoken Shanghai-born bishop for the task reflects the full support he is getting from the pontiff.

The pope asked Cardinal Zen, 76, to write the reflections, or special prayers, for the Way of the Cross ceremony yesterday, which was beamed on live satellite television to millions of Christians around the world.

Benedict presided over the ceremony but did not carry the cross as planned, the Associated Press reported.

He stood sheltered from pelting rain under a canopy.

At the end of the procession, Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini handed Benedict the lightweight cross. The pope gripped it briefly and then blessed the crowd.

Plans were for the pope to carry the cross for the final minutes of the procession.

But Vatican officials said that because of the storm, it was decided that Benedict, who turns 81 next month, should stay dry under the canopy.

There was no noticeable increase of security before Benedict’s arrival at the Colosseum, the Associated Press reported. Earlier in the week, al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden accused the pope of playing a role in a worldwide campaign against Islam, an accusation the Vatican described as baseless.

“I understood that the Holy Father wanted me to bring the voice of China to the Colosseum,” Cardinal Ruini told Vatican Radio on Wednesday. “The memory of the passion of Our Lord naturally refers also to the present suffering still today in the Church, and in China there are many who still are suffering for their faith.”

Cardinal Zen said he hoped Beijing will “understand that religious freedom, also for the Catholic Church, is not harmful at all. On the contrary, it is to the advantage of our homeland.”

However, the left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper noted that direct references to the suffering of Chinese Catholics had been removed in a text of the cardinal’s prayers made available in advance.

“Was this forgetfulness, self-censorship or prudence?” asked Orazio La Rocca, Vatican correspondent for the Rome newspaper.

In his original draft, the cardinal wrote that “for years my people have had to undergo martyrdom only because they are Christians,” but this phrase was removed from the official Vatican version, Mr. La Rocca said, citing Vatican sources.

In one of the meditations, Cardinal Zen lamented the persecution of Catholics in many parts of the world, but he did not mention China by name.

The changes were the result of “advice formulated, prudently, by the high Vatican hierarchy so as not to touch the sensitivity of Beijing and, what would be worse, compromise dangerously the underground dialogue that is under way between China and the Holy See,” Mr. La Rocca said.

Benedict hopes to make a breakthrough in Vatican relations with China and has received support from United Nations senior officials approached by the Vatican’s U.N. ambassador, Bishop Celestine Migliore, the newspaper said.

Critics frequently accuse the Vatican of being soft with the Chinese communist authorities so as to obtain concessions for embattled Chinese Catholics.

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