China lifts ban on Hong Kong Catholic leader

Associated Press

Hong Kong, May 4:

China invited the head of Hong Kong’s Catholic church to return to his hometown of Shanghai last week, lifting a six-year ban on one of Beijing’s most outspoken critics, a newspaper reported today. Bishop Joseph Zen, who was barred from the mainland in 1998, met with government officials and Shanghai’s Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian during a three-day trip that ended on Friday, the South China Morning Post reported. Zen confirmed the report today. The Catholic leader also visited a seminary where he once taught, and visited his brother-in-law’s grave .

Beijing doesn’t recognise the Vatican, and Christians on the mainland are only allowed to worship at state-sanctioned churches. Zen is a vocal critic of China’s suppression of underground Catholic churches loyal to the Vatican, which scholars have estimated serve about half of at least 12 million faithful in the country. He was among the leading opponents of an anti-subversion bill that China wanted passed but that the Hong Kong government - faced with overwhelming public pressure - was forced to drop last year. He warned that the bill could allow the persecution of Hong Kong Christians because of their ties to illegal mainland churches.