In this picture taken March 5, 2018, Cardinal Joseph Zen, former Bishop of Hong Kong, listens to a question during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong.
In this picture taken March 5, 2018, Cardinal Joseph Zen, former Bishop of Hong Kong, listens to a question during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. (photo: Anthony Wallace / AFP via Getty Images)

Cardinal Zen’s Arrest: A Window Into Religious Persecution in China and Hong Kong (Season 4 — Ep. 2)

How has the Communist party “winnowed down” Christianity in China and Hong Kong and what does this mean for the future of the Catholic Church there? International Rights Lawyer Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute sheds light on the persecution of religious believers in China on Religious Freedom Matters.

The world was horrified this week by the arrest of Cardinal Joseph Zen, the beloved 90-year-old former archbishop of Hong Kong, by the Chinese authorities. He’s accused of “colluding with foreign forces,” and if found guilty will probably spend the rest of his life in prison. 

How could such a dreadful thing happen? In this latest episode of our Religious Freedom Matters podcast,  hosts Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Director of the Conscience Project, and Joan Desmond, Senior Editor at the Register, hear crucial background information from Nina Shea. Nina is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and an international human rights lawyer specializing in the horrifying persecution of religious believers in China.

Nina explains that President Xi’s anti-religious policy of “Sinicization” has been applied viciously since 2018 — the year that the Vatican signed a controversial pact with Beijing giving control over the appointment of bishops. China’s Muslim Uyghurs were thrown into massive concentration camps. Christians were too numerous to suffer that fate, so instead Xi enforced new laws that “absorb the Churches into the Communist Party and mean that priests, bishops, pastors are required to indoctrinate their flock in Communist Party dogma.”

All Christians must display “enthusiasm, fervor and love for the party,” and there must be quotes from President Xi in every sermon. Crucially, all Chinese children are forbidden to be taught Christianity. Their parents, meanwhile, must read from Bibles crudely doctored by the CCP. Incredibly, the story in St. John’s Gospel of the woman taken in adultery has been twisted so that Jesus stones her to death, because Xi’s Community Party teaches that everyone must obey the law and there can be no forgiveness.

The crackdown on Catholicism in Hong Kong, where the Communist Party does not technically control religion, has been more subtle but no less sinister. “There can be no dissent, there is closer surveillance, and there are angry articles being written in the Beijing mouthpiece paper threatening Cardinal Zen, saying he’s responsible for student protests,” says Nina.

Now we know that those were not empty threats. Everyone who cares about Christianity in China, and especially the fate of the heroic cardinal from Hong Kong, should make sure to listen to this episode.