In Catholicism related news, Stephen Hawking, world-reknowned theoretical physicist and sometimes Simpsons guest star was just in Hong Kong and is now in Beijing, where he planning on giving talks at the Strings (as in string theory) 2006 conference being held up there.
While in Hong Kong, Hawking joked during a talk that the late Pope John Paul II had told him not to study the origin of the universe, saying that it was okay to study what came after the initial moments of the universe, but not the moment of “conception” (which came after a big bang), which the late Pope said was the Creator’s work.
In fact, China’s tumultuous relationship with the Vatican has, even by their standards, fallen to a new low. At the center of the crisis are seven detained bishops whose fate remains uncertain, especially one who is 89 years old and in deteriorating health. There are now high level secret talks (only the participants and bloggers know about it) being held between the Vatican and Beijing regarding the fate of these “political hostages”.
At the heart of the longstanding feud is the right of the Vatican to appoint bishops, the loyalty of Catholics to the Vatican (and not Beijing) and the Vatican’s recognition of Taiwan. Chinese leaders have long maintained the stance that “allowing the Pope to appoint bishops would lead to the church becoming the vanguard of anti-communist dissent as it did in Poland.” Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong said that relations were experiencing an upturn after John Paul II’s death, but that someone in the upper echelons of power in Beijing had gotten antsy and sounded the alarm bells. And how we have these seven old and frail underground bishops, all of whom are incommunicado. Zen had these fighting words to say to Beijing:
Chinese leaders did not want to face up to the contradictions in their society. “For us it is a real mystery how they can open the market and then be so backward in their religious policy,” he said.
“They are afraid of anything they cannot control and so they even try to control consciences. But that’s impossible.”
Their fear seems to be more of any crack in the party’s omnipotence rather than a genuine risk of revolt. The government says there are only 5m Catholics among the nation’s 1.3 billion people and even the exiles claim a maximum of 14m Catholics.
Nonetheless, their influence exceeds their number. Zen said he had heard that there were Catholics loyal to the Pope at high levels in the government and even the armed forces.
This last sentence certainly raised our eyebrows. But then again, how will we ever know?
We do know this: We’d never pay 50 USD for a Stephen Hawking action figure.