Joseph Zen
Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong
Cardinal Zen
Diocese Roman Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong
Enthroned 23 September 2002
Reign ended 15 April 2009 (Template:Nts years, Template:Nts days)
Predecessor John Wu
Successor John Tong Hon
Ordination 1961
Consecration 1996
Created Cardinal 24 March 2006
Other Coadjutor Bishop of Hong Kong
Personal details
Born 13 January 1932 (1932-01-13) (age 85)
Shanghai, China
Denomination Roman Catholic

Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, SDB (Chinese: 陳日君樞機, born January 13, 1932) is a Chinese Cardinal of the Catholic Church, who served as the sixth Bishop of Hong Kong. He was elevated to the cardinalate in 2006, and is famous for his outspoken disposition on issues regarding human rights, political freedom, and religious liberty, often attracting criticism from the Communist Party of China.

Early life and career

Styles of
Joseph Zen Ze-kiun
CardinalCoA PioM
Reference style His Eminence
Spoken style Your Eminence
Informal style Cardinal
See Hong Kong
Joseph Zen Ze-kiun
Traditional Chinese 陳日君
Simplified Chinese 陈日君

Joseph Zen was born in Shanghai to devoutly Catholic parents, Vincent Zen and Margaret Tseu. He studied in a church school during the Second Sino-Japanese War, but was sent to an abbey after his father suffered a stroke.

Zen fled to Hong Kong from Shanghai to escape Communist rule at the end of the Chinese Civil War. After entering the Salesians at the Hong Kong novitiate, he was ordained to the priesthood on February 11, 1961 by Maurilio Cardinal Fossati. Zen obtained a licentiate in theology (1961) and a doctorate in philosophy (1964) from the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. Since 1973, he has taught in the Holy Spirit Seminary College of Hong Kong - 1976 to 1978 of Macao Salesian School (Instituto Salesiano) (澳門慈幼中學) as principal; In 1978, he became the Provincial Superior of Salesians (which includes mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan), then resigned in 1983. He was a lecturer in the Seminaries in China, centres of studies acknowledged by the Communist party, between 1989 to 1996. He was appointed the coadjutor Bishop of Hong Kong in 1996 by Pope John Paul II.

Fight for democracy

After he succeeded as Bishop of Hong Kong on September 23, 2002, he led the Diocese in voicing their reservations about the proposed anti-subversion laws, required under Article 23 of the Basic Law. He was worried that these laws, if enacted without a thorough consultation process including a white paper, could easily lead to violations of basic civil rights in future.

On July 1, 2003, he took part in a prayer gathering at Victoria Park before the July 1 March began. Many Christians, including Catholics and those of other denominations, attended the demonstration.

On June 3, 2004, the diocese held a praying activity called Democratize China (民主中國). Zen said that Hong Kong was suffering from a bloodless June 4th massacre without guns and tanks. He was criticized by the Financial Minister of PRC.

On July 1, 2004, Zen attended a prayer gathering at Victoria Park before the second July 1 March, but he himself didn't take part in the demonstration. Still, many Catholics joined thousands of other citizens in the anti-government march.

On November 3, 2005, after returning from Vatican City, he said that the people of Hong Kong should be allowed to decide whether or not they wanted proposed constitutional reforms; he also said that the Government should conduct a "territory-wide public opinion survey" to allow the people to decide whether or not they wanted the constitutional reform package it was proposing. He was then known as the 'Voice' of Hong Kong because he successfully made six pan-democrats that tried to support the motion of the Government to announce opposition to the motion. He was openly criticized by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui after the defeat of the political reform package.

Cardinal Zen attended the June 4, 2006 Prayer gathering in memory of the victims of the June 4 massacre. He asked the Chinese government to let the Chinese people to discuss the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 freely.(Source)

Zen also led the July 1 Protest in 2007.

"New Conscience"

Zen has long been known as the "new conscience of Hong Kong" for his unflinching defence of human rights, political freedom, and religious liberty in the face of criticism from China's communist government. He has bluntly said that the Chinese crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square was "a big mistake," and called on the government to "tell the truth" about those events. He was also a leading opponent of Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23, a since-shelved national security bill, which in 2003 prompted an anti-government protest by half a million people. Zen is a vocal proponent of a push for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, telling his flock in a 2005 homily that "a path will appear when enough people walk on it." He has publicly called on officials in Hong Kong to support the aspirations of the people, rather than functioning as spokespersons for the central government in Beijing. At a personal level, he is described by John L. Allen Jr., a Vatican watcher, as "a gracious, humble man, a moderate on most issues".

Zen was named the "Person of the Year 2002" by the Apple Daily.


Joseph Zen Ze Kiun

Cardinal Zen wearing the mitre and carrying his episcopal crosier

On September 18, 2005, he told Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily reporters that he was willing to retire in January 2007.[1] He also said that he wanted to be a teacher in either mainland China or in Africa, as there are teachers shortage in Africa. Democratic Party ex-chairman Martin Lee, also a Roman Catholic, stated that because Zen was still healthy for his age, the Pope may request him to stay in his position. Legislative Council member Audrey Eu praised that Zen was different from other religious leaders in Hong Kong because he was comparatively brave in sharing his political views and also because he carried out his ideas of fairness, equitableness, and philanthropy via actual efforts. On the other hand, some conservatives inside the church speculated that the strained relationship between Beijing and the Holy See will become more relaxed if Zen retires. Nonetheless, Zen wrote a letter to the Pope on January 13, 2006 and stated that he did want to retire from his position, though not because of his age. On 15 April 2009 Pope Benedict accepted Cardinal Zen's resignation. Thus John Tong Hon became the Bishop of the diocese. [2]

Speculated secret cardinal

Zen was believed by many to be the secret cardinal appointed by Pope John Paul II, but because this was not announced after the death of the Pope, the answer remained a secret and no one knew who the secret cardinal was, although customarily, cardinals in pectore themselves are often unaware of their clandestine appointment. However, the issue is still left unanswered as the late Pope did not leave the name of the Secret Cardinal in writing.


File:Cardinal Zen motto.JPG

On February 22, 2006, it was confirmed that Zen would be elevated to College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI in the next consistory on March 24, 2006. Zen, who was created Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria Madre del Redentore a Tor Bella Monaca, believed that his elevation would show how important the Pope values the Church in China. He was named shortly after to be a member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

Bishop Zen's elevation was welcomed by Catholics in Hong Kong as it was seen as a recognition of the bishop's stance on social justice and as an honour for the church in Hong Kong. Vicar General Rev. Dominic Chan Chi-ming said that it would be an honour to have a cardinal to once again head the diocese. Rev. Louis Ha Ke-loon said it shows that even the Pope feels that Bishop Zen should speak out. Democrat legislator Martin Lee added that it was good news because no matter whether he is a bishop or a cardinal, as a religious leader Zen speaks as moral voice of the people.

Since the consistory, Zen has become the only Chinese cardinal under the age of 80 eligible to vote in papal conclaves. His elevation has brought rejoicing to the Church in China (and particularly to underground Catholics) as it is seen as a great sign of hope. Bishop Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar, who is not recognized by the Chinese government, said that it is a "great joy", and that Bishop Zen is "very trustworthy" and uncompromising in his dedication to the Catholic faith.

Cardinal Zen offered a Pontifical High Mass in the Tridentine Rite in May 2006, for which he was celebrated and thanked by traditionalist Catholics around the world.

Pope Benedict has decided that Cardinal Zen will carry on as the Bishop of Hong Kong despite the fact that he has already reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 on 13 January 2007. It is unclear how long he will stay on in his position.

At Pope Benedict XVI's behest, Cardinal Zen wrote the meditations for the traditional Stations of the Cross led by the Pope at the Roman Colisseum on Good Friday,March 21, 2008.

Relations with the People's Republic of China

After the pope canonized several priests who died during the Boxer Rebellion, Zen (as coadjutor bishop at the time) said that the priests were innocent and great and the Boxers deserved to be punished. This angered the Central People's Government, who banned him from visiting mainland China for six years. On May 3, 2004, he visited mainland China for the first time since 1998 and was the first bishop of Hong Kong to visit China since the handover in 1997. Still, the official newspapers published by the Communist Party of China criticized him.

He has also been especially critical of Beijing's response to the Falun Gong spiritualist movement, which China's leaders have outlawed for "trying to overthrow" the Communist Party. Every time the Government requested the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to re-interpret the Basic Law, Zen criticized the Government and mainland China.

In April and May 2006, Cardinal Zen opposed the episcopal consecration of two bishops in China who belonged to the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. The elevations were without the permission of the Holy See, causing a controversy. In February 2007, in an interview, Cardinal Zen referred the appointments without Vatican permission as a "declaration of war".

Controversy and criticism

A bill hung by an unknown person who hates Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun

A bill critical of Cardinal Zen.

Education reform controversies

On June 5, 2005, Zen announced that if the Legislative Council passed a proposal to support the schools to create incorporated management committees on July 8, 2005, he would appeal against the decision to the court. The Education (Amendment) Bill 2002, once enacted, would likely play down the role of the Church in running Catholic schools and in promoting Catholic education.

However, after the Government gave up some argued points in the motion, the Diocese decided to support the motion, though the Diocese later announced plans to prosecute the Government on September 28, 2005.

After two teachers committed suicide in early January 2006, Zen said that these acts must be due to the educational reforms and he asked the government to halt new reforms.

WTO affairs

On December 18, 2005, Zen visited protesters in Wan Chai and tried to visit the detained South Korean Catholics, including two priests and a nun who were reportedly ill-treated by the Hong Kong police. He openly criticised the Hong Kong police for their treatment of the protesters, saying, "As a Hong Kong person, I feel ashamed. I want to apologize to the Korean farmers. What the Hong Kong police leaders have done is not appropriate."[3] He also called the government a "child" for "doing something nonsense'" . About one month later, several unions in Hong Kong Police Force decided to write a letter to the Pope to complain about Zen's speech. Zen replied that some policemen were "sycophantic to the senior officers inside the police force".

However, in the Korean farmer-protesters' pronouncement, the farmers thanked Zen for his unlimited support and his $1000 red packet to every arrested protestor, including the Taiwan student, the Mainlander and the Japanese. This caused criticism that Zen was "illegally supporting" the protestors during the prosecution.

Criticisms within the diocese

Several local priests tried to persuade Zen not to participate in any protests before he led the July 1 Protest in 2007. Zen was only allowed to attend the prayer gathering before the protests and protests against the educational reforms. Some Catholics criticized Zen for making the church like a "political party" and posted anti-Zen advertisements in newspapers and on the internet.

In January 2006, Rev. Joseph Lee, Parish Priest of St. Anthony's Church, who, similar to Zen, was born and educated in Shanghai and is a Salesian, said in a television programme that "99% of Catholics disagree with the Bishop," while according to a survey more than 60% of Catholics agree with the Bishop. He also said that Zen seriously harmed the relationship between China and the Holy See.

The second chapter in 2006 of the Catholic official newspaper Kung Kao Po contained criticism and opinions by Rev. John B. Kwan Kit Tong against Zen. Four weeks later, Rev. Kwan claimed in the same newspaper that the criticism was not written directly against Zen and that his writing had been misinterpreted by local newspapers.


  • Do not willingly be slaves of the powerful.(唔好甘心做強權者嘅奴隸) -- Victoria Park, Hong Kong, July 1, 2003
  • I can't see sincerity from the government to give us universal suffrage. So what if the election committee (to choose the city's leader) is expanded to 1,600 people? What is the next step? There is no direction! -- Ming Pao, November 3, 2005
  • As a Hong Kong person, I feel ashamed. I want to apologize to the Korean farmers. What the Hong Kong police leaders have done is not appropriate. -- December 18, 2005 while visiting the protestors
  • The Hong Kong Police are the 'disgrace of Hong Kong'. -- criticizing the senior officials of the Hong Kong police for not being able to arrest the protesters who caused the violence in Wan Chai during the WTO Ministerial Conference of 2005, but detaining more than 900 peaceful protesters afterwards, --December 2005.

See also

External links

Religious titles
Title last held by
Lorenzo Bianchi
Coadjutor Bishop of Hong Kong
1996 – 2002
Title next held by
John Tong Hon
Preceded by
John Wu
Catholic Bishop of Hong Kong
2002 – 2009
Succeeded by
John Tong Hon
la:Iosephus Zen Ze-kiunno:Joseph Zen Ze-kiunpt:Joseph Zen Ze-kiun

ru:Чэнь Жицзюнь, Иосиф zh-yue:陳日君 zh:陳日君

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