Coadjutor Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong explained this week why he decided to accept “with ambivalent sentiments” the invitation of the Chinese government to participate in the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Beijing. From the bishop’s perspective, the persecution of Catholics by the government is mixed with the joy of having the country host the event.
In an article published by the L’Osservatore Romano, Bishop Tong Hon said that as soon as he received the invitation from the government, “I understood I should consult with my superiors. The Holy See did not voice any objections, and Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong encouraged me to go. Therefore I decided to accept.”
He recalled that Pope Benedict XVI expressed his own desire that the Olympic Games in China “would be a great success.” “However, while the leaders of the six largest religions in Hong Kong were invited to Beijing, only in the case of the Catholic Church was an invitation not sent to the highest authority. I am embarrassed because our government ignored Cardinal Zen and invited me instead,” Bishop Tong Hon said.
He expressed his concern as well that “a number of Catholic leaders are still in jail or under house arrest,” and he mentioned the case of six bishops and many priests and faithful, who “suffer for our Catholic faith and for their fidelity to the Holy Father.”
The bishop said that he hopes someday the Chinese government will give “the same importance to greater religious and social freedom” that they have to cleaning up the pollution in Beijing in anticipation of the Games.
Chinese officials still seem to have a distrust of Chinese Catholics and “feel threatened when we practice our faith,” according to Bishop Tong Hon. One example he cited was the May 24 Day of Prayer for China, at which police prevented the faithful from entering the Shrine of Sheshan on the outskirts of Shangai.
But not everything is negative, he said, pointing to some signs of openness on the part of the government after the recent earthquake that struck the country. The entire country “was mobilized like one big family to help the victims,” he said.
“The five Olympic rings are known throughout the world,” Bishop Tong Hon said. “I wish China would give the same importance to the five interconnected aspects of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, justice and peace.”
“The Olympic Games show the progress of China,” he continued. “We Christians underscore the spiritual development more. With St. Paul, we like to compare our spiritual journey with a race towards the goal ‘in order to reach the prize that God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus’.”