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China critic to lead HK Catholics
Cardinal John Baptist Wu, 77, who had led the Hong Kong diocese since 1975, died after a six-year battle with diabetes and later bone-marrow cancer.
A church spokesman said his deputy, Bishop Joseph Zen, would assume leadership of the diocese, a right of succession that was decided by the Vatican in 1996.
Roman Catholicism is illegal and China has shut down dozens of underground churches.
Born in China's southern Guangdong province, Wu was made a cardinal in 1988 but has often been overshadowed by his far more vocal deputy.
China has barred Zen from visiting the mainland since 1998, two years after he was appointed bishop.
Zen believes the ban, similar to those imposed on Hong Kong's opposition political figures, is punishment for a speech he gave in the Vatican lamenting China's lack of religious freedom.
The Shanghai-born Zen has been a constant thorn in the side of the Hong Kong government in recent years, repeatedly taking authorities to task for their handling of the controversial Falun Gong spiritual movement and illegal Chinese migrants.
Last year, he lashed out against Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa for calling the Falun Gong an evil cult, saying Christian organizations may well become targets in future, too.
In 2000, Zen accused Beijing of meddling with Hong Kong's religious freedom. He said Chinese officials had asked the diocese to refrain from any public celebrations after the Pope canonized 120 Roman Catholic martyrs whom Beijing regarded as traitors.
However, the diocese ignored the request and pressed ahead with its celebrations.
Beijing took back the former British colony in July 1997 and promised that its freedoms and ways of life would be left intact for 50 years.
Speaking to Reuters in a recent interview, Zen said he would continue to speak out when necessary.
"I'm outspoken maybe because too many things have been happening in society recently. Once I succeed the Cardinal ... if things go on happening, maybe I have to remind our Catholic faithful of our doctrines in issues," Zen said.
"We have to raise our voices ... these freedoms are very characteristic of Hong Kong and they differentiate Hong Kong from mainland China. We hope that if one of the two systems has to change, it is the mainland's that has to change to allow for more freedom as we enjoy and used to enjoy in Hong Kong."
Hong Kong has more than 224,000 Catholics. Buddhism and Taoism are the main religions in the Chinese territory of 6.8 million people.
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