Photo: Charles Quigg '09
Cardinal Joseph Zen, SDB
Doctor of Humane Letters
Long known as the “new conscience of Hong Kong,” Cardinal Joseph Zen is one of the world’s pre-eminent religious leaders and a steadfast champion of religious liberty and other human rights. Elevated to the cardinalate in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI in his first consistory, Zen is only the sixth cardinal from China in the history of the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Zen, who was born in Shanghai in 1932, was educated in Italy, where he was ordained a priest in 1961. After receiving his doctorate in philosophy from the Universita Pontificia Salesiana in Turin in 1964, he became a professor at the Salesian House of Studies in Hong Kong, where he taught for six years. In 1971, Zen was named a professor in philosophy and theology at Holy Spirit Seminary College in Hong Kong. He remains in this post, and has held simultaneous teaching and administrative positions at various schools and seminaries in mainland China and Hong Kong.
Zen was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong in 1996 and was installed as the diocese’s sixth bishop six years later. For the past decade he has been the spiritual figure behind some of the most important civil rights movements in the region, speaking out for religious freedom, increased independence for Hong Kong and greater government accountability. A recent poll in Hong Kong’s Daily Apple listed him as the city’s “most significant person,” and he has said that his being named cardinal shows that the Pope considers China a priority.
A determined man who forgoes the pomp that some might enjoy, Cardinal Zen works out of a small, spartan office and wears the cardinal’s red hat only on ceremonial occasions.