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Christian Post (01/10/06) – The hearts and minds of Chinese Catholics are not under the control of the Communist Party despite its efforts through restrictions on religious freedom, according to a Hong Kong bishop.

Bishop Joseph Zen Zekiun, 73, of Hong Kong spoke openly to the Italian newspaper Awenire about the situation for Catholics in China . Zen is known as “the independent voice of the Catholic Church in China ” and had spoken to Pope John Paul II about his country in 1997.

Most recently, Zen spoke about the difficulties for Catholic churches to be fully recognized by the Pope under Communist rule, naming the government’s desire to control every part of society, including its people, as an obstacle.

“There continues to be a very heavy yoke in China ,” Zen said to Awenire. “The Communist Party wants to control everything, not just structures but also the minds and hearts of citizens.

“Today the methods have changed a bit, but deep down the reality is the same. No one dares to really say what he thinks.”

However, the Hong Kong bishop believes that despite the difficulties, “Catholics are winning” in China and succeeding in gaining key areas of freedom.

“With patience and tenacity they (Chinese Catholics) are conquering significant areas of freedom,” Zen said. “The Communist government controls the structures, but no longer the hearts and minds of the faithful.”

As an example of gains made by believers in China , he noted that after years of forced separation, “the Catholic Church in fact is now only one [and] all want to be united to the Pope.”

For many years, the Catholic Church in China was split between the underground church that wanted to unite with the Pope and the officially recognized church that did not. The bishop said, now, even many of the official churches want to be recognized by the Holy See and Catholic churches in China are uniting as one.

Pope John Paul II began to accept petitions for recognition in the ‘80s, leading to about 85 percent of the episcopate of the official Chinese Church being legitimized by the Vatican .

The Holy See has recently expressed its willingness to establish diplomatic relations with Communist China. But according to Awenire, Zen does not predict a historic agreement between the two, commenting that “the Chinese Communists aren’t in any hurry.”

The Hong Kong Bishop told the Italian newspaper, “I don’t see an agreement around the corner; more time is needed.”