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Pope Francis meets with Cardinal Zen in private audience

Pope Francis with Cardinal Zen and Father Carlos Cheung (Photo credit Cardinal Zen's Twitter)

Pope Francis met with the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun on January 6 in a private audience at Santa Marta, his residence in the Vatican.

“It was wonderful. He was so very warm!” Cardinal Zen told America Magazine after the meeting.

The 90-year-old cardinal told America Magazine that Pope Francis greeted him cordially in a parlor on the ground level of Santa Marta, where they sat for a while and spoke in a friendly manner.

First, the cardinal expressed his gratitude to Pope Francis for giving Hong Kong "a good bishop," Bishop Stephen Chow, SJ, in 2021.

"He's a Jesuit!" the Pope responded jokingly with a smile.

Second, the elderly cardinal informed Pope Francis about his pastoral ministry of visiting prisoners in Hong Kong prisons. He has been doing this ministry for almost ten years. He informed him that he had baptized several prisoners who desired the sacrament throughout the years.

Pope Francis was "very happy" to hear about his pastoral ministry, Cardinal Zen said.

After a brief conversation in the parlor, the cardinal stated that Pope Francis took him and Father Carlos Cheung to his private room, where he gave them presents of books and rosary beads.

Pope Francis showed him a replica of the Our Lady of Sheshan statue he received on his election as Pope and had placed in his room.

"I hope you can one day visit the shrine of Sheshan!" the cardinal said after seeing the statue.

The original can be seen atop the church at the famous Marian shrine of Sheshan, a pilgrimage place located on the outskirts of Shanghai, the cardinal's birthplace.

The cardinal recalled that the pope was full of good humor and that he even insisted on accompanying him and his companion to the exit.

“I accompany you for two reasons: I want to make sure you go; and secondly, I want to make sure that you do not take anything with you!” Pope Francis joked and laughed. Francis waved goodbye as they all laughed.

The cardinal stated that he could visit and pray at Pope Benedict XVI's tomb at St. Peter's Basilica's crypt before meeting with Pope Francis.

Cardinal Zen pays homage to the late Pope Benedict XVI (Photo credit: Cardinal Zen's Twitter)

Today's audience was a personal and private audience since the cardinal had to return to Hong Kong on January 7 to respect a court order.

Authorities in Hong Kong confiscated his passport after he was arrested and released on bail on May 11, 2022.  A magistrate decided on January 3 to grant the cardinal permission to travel for five days outside of Hong Kong to attend the funeral of the late Pope Emeritus on January 5.

The cardinal was detained last year under the city's national security law in his role as a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protestors to pay their legal fees.

After obtaining his passport, Cardinal Zen went to Rome with a young Salesian confrere, Father Carlos Cheung. They landed in Rome at 6 AM on January 5 just in time to attend the requiem Mass of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square. The cardinal briefly met Pope Francis in the sacristy before Mass.

Cardinal Zen could not meet Pope Francis privately when he was the last time in Rome in 2020. - With inputs from America Magazine


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