The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without permanent leadership since January 2019, when Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died unexpectedly. Since Yeung died, the diocese has been led temporarily by Cardinal John Tong Hon, Yeung’s predecessor, who retired from the post in 2017.
When CNA reported in January that a decision to appoint Father Peter Choy Wai-man as Hong Kong’s next bishop had received final approval in Rome, local clergy and lay Catholics expressed worry to CNA that Father Choy is too sympathetic to the Chinese Communist government, with one source describing him as a "pro-Beijing hawk."
Zen said he worries that Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin will insist that the next bishop of Hong Kong have "the blessing of Beijing."
"I think the majority of the faithful, the silent majority...they think that the authority is wrong. And you can just imagine, in all these years, with all the persecution increasing in China, with all the cruelties, the brutalities of the police on our young people— no word from the Vatican. No word. Not one word."
"We rely on help from heaven...from the human perspective, we have nothing to hope," he said.
On May 27, the US Department of State announced that, in light of China’s actions, it no longer recognizes Hong Kong as politically autonomous from China— a designation the region has enjoyed under US law since 1992. The announcement opens the door to possible sanctions against chinese officials and other measures including tariffs on goods coming from Hong Kong.
In addition, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada issued a joint statement calling the move a violation of China’s obligations under the 1997 treaty that turned Hong Kong over to China, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Last week, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri introduced a resolution with more than ten cosponsors condemning the proposed law.
Zen told CNA that Beijing's efforts to undermine Hong Kong's autonomy have not come as a surprise to him, because Chinese President Xi Jinping had already installed leaders in Hong Kong loyal to him and to the CCP.
"There is no more 'one country, two systems.' [China] didn't dare to say it in those exact words, but the fact is there,” Zen said.
“Now, with the [legislature], they will legitimize all that they are doing.”
Still, Zen expressed some puzzlement at China's most recent actions, which have led the US to declare that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous, because "everyone knows" that Hong Kong's system is useful to China.
"Everybody understands that Hong Kong is very useful to China for the exchange of currency and many other things— investment by foreign enterprises...and now, they are ready to destroy everything, and we can do nothing because Hong Kong is a small thing— [China] can crush it as they like," Zen said.
"I think the international community should feel a moral duty to [protect] this city, where we live according to international values. And also for their own interest, because the destruction of our system in Hong Kong is not good for anybody."
Similar security rules have been proposed before; in 2003, the Communist government attempted to use Hong Kong’s own legislative and executive councils to pass the anti-sedition measures, but massive protests led lawmakers to abandon the proposal.
Hong Kong’s Basic Law requires the city to pass its own laws against “secessionist, subversive” and other activities that threaten state security. But in 2003, the Hong Kong government started making a similar law but "in a very bad way," Zen said— the draft of the law was insufficient, and the government allowed only a very brief consultation period.
"We are not against having a law, but we want it to be well formulated. Because the law they were presenting was against all our freedoms," he said.
The situation is deteriorating after 2003, so there's no opportunity for Hong Kong's legislature to create a "good law," he said.
"We would not accept any law made by a government that does not represent the people," Zen insisted.
"Because they promised democratic elections, but they went back on their promises...in this moment there is nothing in view that suggests a real, democratic election. And so I think now Xi Jinping is under pressure, both from the international community and also from inside China— from his enemies in the government— and so Hong Kong is kind of a thorn in his side. And so he just wants to get rid of that."
The day after Beijing announced its intention to pass the anti-sedition laws, the Diocese of Hong Kong announced the resumption of public Masses amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
According to apostolic administrator Cardinal John Tong, weekday public Masses will resume in the diocese June 1, and Sunday public Masses on June 7.
Churches remain limited to half capacity in Hong Kong; Catholics will still have the option of attending Mass online and receiving spiritual communion.
Ed Condon contributed to this report.