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Subject: Cardinal John Baptist Wu, Hong Kong Catholic leader

dead at 77
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Date Posted: September 23, 2002 4:05:03 EDT

Cardinal John Baptist Wu, who as head of Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Diocese led the church through the sensitive transition from British to Chinese rule, died Monday. He was 77.

Wu had been critically ill with multiple myeloma, terminal bone marrow cancer, church officials said. He was admitted to hospital in June, released a month later, then hospitalized again Aug. 19 when his condition deteriorated.

Hong Kong's political leader, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, said Monday he was ``deeply grieved'' by Wu's death and expressed his condolences to the church.

``He had worked tirelessly to serve the Catholic community and make great contribution to the well-being of Hong Kong people,'' Tung said in a statement.

Born in 1925 in mainland China, Wu was ordained in 1952 and named a bishop in 1975. In 1988, he was appointed Hong Kong's first-ever cardinal. The Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong has 347,000 followers.

Under Wu's leadership, Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Church occasionally ventured into sensitive political territory, drawing on civil liberties guaranteed to Hong Kong when the British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

While Wu was cardinal, he led a thanksgiving service attended by more than 1,000 people to mark the Vatican's canonization of 120 missionaries killed in China. Mainland officials said the canonization was ``an open insult.''

Wu is to be succeeded by Bishop Joseph Zen, an outspoken cleric who has been barred from visiting the mainland since 1998, two years after he was made a bishop. His outspokenness has raised concerns whether the Catholic Church's relationship with the government might deteriorate after he takes over from Wu.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post published Sunday, Zen blasted the Hong Kong leadership for its ``toadying'' political culture, referring to government officials acting to please Beijing.

Vowing to safeguard religious freedom and human rights, Zen told the Post: ``We do not want to see Hong Kong becoming like any other city in the mainland...So we have to speak out at once if we see any freedom being jeopardized.''

Wu and Zen were among church leaders who have spoken out in defense of the spiritual group Falun Gong, which is banned on the mainland but remains legal here.

During Wu's tenure, however, the church's reputation was far from spotless.

In May, the revelations of eight alleged child sexual abuse cases committed by priests working here stunned many Hong Kong people--and church officials were widely criticized for not reporting the cases to police.

Despite the church's pledge to adopt a ``zero tolerance'' policy toward child sex abuse, police have said the church appeared to have been shielding alleged pedophile priests rather than taking action to protect the victims.

Recently, Pope John Paul II praised Wu on the 50th anniversary of Wu's priesthood, saying no one could be ``unaware of the great spiritual benefit and strength'' that the cardinal has brought to the faithful over the years.

Ha said the church will hold a vigil mass on Friday and a requiem mass on Saturday following Wu's burial.

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