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Future Cardinal Zen Benefited From Almsgiving

Hong Kong Prelate Urges Faithful to Give to Poor

HONG KONG, FEB. 5, 2008 ( Cardinal Joseph Zen’s pastoral letter for Lent uniquely echoes Benedict XVI’s call for Lenten almsgiving: He recounts how an almsgiver saved his own family from hunger.

The bishop of Hong Kong’s Feb. 1 letter details an experience young Joseph Zen had as a child.

“It was when Shanghai had been invaded,” the cardinal recalled. “My father had had a stroke and was ill. There were seven in our family, and five of us were school age — all had to be fed. One cold winter day, it was snowing outside, so we were all in bed to keep warm. We were hungry and could only think: ‘Will we have rice to eat today?'”

“My father looked at the clock and called me to get up. […] Mother said, ‘It is snowing. The soles of your plastic shoes are broken. If you get wet you will catch cold. Stay at home to pray.'”

“But Father said, ‘You go to Mass everyday. Do not miss it today. May God give us our daily bread.’ Of course, Father won the day,” the 76-year-old Shanghai-born cardinal remembered. “I gritted my teeth and raced to church and served Mass as usual. When I was ready to race back home, an elderly man came running after me. It was Zhou Chi Yao whom everybody knew.”

Cardinal Zen explained that his father and Zhou usually attended Mass daily: “Though they greeted each other briefly with a nod of the head, they became good brothers in the Lord.”

The elderly man said to young Joseph Zen: “My little friend, are you not the son of Zen En Giou?”

“Yes,” replied the boy.

“Thank God I ran into you,” said Zhou. “How is your father? He has not been to Church for a long time.”

Cardinal Zen recalled in the Lenten letter, “I told him about our family situation. […] He took me to his home and took out a stack of money, counted it, wrapped it up and handed it to me. He said, ‘Take good care and bring this to your father.'”

With this money, Cardinal Zen explained, the family had enough money to buy food for several months.

“Zhou’s left hand did not know what his right hand was doing,” the cardinal wrote, alluding to Christ’s exhortation in the Gospel. The bishop of Hong Kong thus urged Catholics to follow the example set by the elderly Zhou.

“We should not worry about our lack of financial means,” the cardinal further encouraged. “We can be at peace if we do what we can. Jesus openly praised the widow for giving two tiny coins.”

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