- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

The Vatican yesterday was accused of currying favor with China by “censoring” the Easter reflections for tonight’s solemn Good Friday service at the Colosseum that Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun 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 enjoys from the pontiff.

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

The prayers will be recited at each of the 14 “stations of the cross” as specially chosen participants join a torch-lit procession led by the German pontiff carrying a large wooden cross in a liturgy recalling the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

“I understood that the Holy Father wanted me to bring the voice of China to the Colosseum,” the cardinal told the 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 the Chinese leadership in 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 there was no reference to the suffering of Chinese Catholics 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 of the reflections, 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 the text that will be read and broadcast all over the world there is no trace of ‘persecution’ and the question of ‘religious freedom’ in China,” said the newspaper. “In the end, the Chinese cardinal was ‘advised’ to write meditations for the papal Way of the Cross that were more spiritual, less political, without specific accusing references.”

This was “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.

The Italian media lashed out at Benedict earlier this week when he failed to mention demonstrations in Tibet during his weekly Angelus address on Sunday. The pope, however, broke silence on Tibet in remarks critical of China during his weekly general audience on Wednesday.

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