On Sunday, Pope Francis expressed his "spiritual closeness" to Chinese Catholics, adding that he hopes the churches there may operate in "freedom and tranquility." The 85 year old Holy Father however did not mention the recent arrest of former Hong Kong bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen, who is 90.

During Sunday's traditional remarks, the Pope addressed people who gathered in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City, where he shared his thoughts on the celebration of the "Blessed Mother Mary, Help of Christians" on May 24, VOA News reported. The Holy Father also shared that Mary is the patron of Catholics in China.

"The joyful circumstance offers me the occasion to renew to them assurance of my spiritual closeness," Pope Francis remarked during the address. "I follow with attention and participation the life and the matters of the faithful and pastors, often complex, and I pray every day for them."

Pope Failed to Address Cardinal Zen's Arrest

During Sunday's address, the Pope did not mention Cardinal Zen by name or discuss persecution in the communist country. The former Hong Kong bishop was arrested on May 11 with three others on suspicion of working with foreign forces to threaten China's national security. Cardinal Zen has long been vocal about his opposition to China's communist government and even criticized the Vatican's 2018 agreement with China over the nomination of Chinese bishops. He argued that the agreement was a sell-out of Chrisitans who worship in underground congregations to avoid persecution in a communist country.

According to the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Zen was interrogated for hours and released on bail pending charges after he was arrested earlier this month. The Holy See Press Office acknowledged his arrest and said they were monitoring the situation with "extreme attention." Secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he was "displeased" over the arrest but was grateful that the former Hong Kong bishop was "treated well" by Chinese authorities.

Also Read: US Concerned Over Arrest Of 90 Year Old Pro-Democracy Bishop In Hong Kong

Pope Calls for Prayer for Peace and Tranquility

Pope Francis on Sunday called upon the faithful to join him in prayer "so that the church in China, in freedom and tranquility, can live in effective communion with the universal church and can exercise its mission to announce the Gospel to all, offering, thusly, a positive contribution to the spiritual and material progress of society."

The Vatican-China accord that Cardinal Zen criticized aimed to decrease tensions over the Chinese government's desire to control the nomination of bishops, which according to the Vatican is the responsibility of pontiffs. The Vatican believes that the accord prevents a more serious divide between the Chinese church after Beijing appointed bishops without the pope's approval. The Vatican-China deal regularized the status of seven "illegitimate" bishops and also brought them into full communion with the Holy Father.

Cardinal Zen's arrest came as a shock to many Chinese faithful especially amidst talks between China and the Vatican over its power-sharing agreement of ordaining bishops in the communist country. Rev. Prof Tobias Brandner of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told The Guardian that the silence of churchgoers over the arrest of Cardinal Zen is out of fear. He remarked, "The fact that they did not refrain from arresting such a senior cleric...is surely an attack on the Vatican. I expect that this has repercussions."

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