VATICAN CITY, Holy See – Pope Francis said Sunday that he was following “attentively” the “often complex” life of Catholics in China, without directly referencing a 90-year old cardinal arrested in Hong Kong this month.


“I attentively and actively follow the often complex life and the matters of the faithful and pastors, and I pray every day for them,” the pontiff told the public gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

Francis said he took the chance to “assure them once again of my spiritual closeness”.

Retired cardinal Joseph Zen, one of the most senior Catholic clerics in Asia, was among a group of veteran democracy advocates arrested in Hong Kong earlier this month for “colluding with foreign forces”.

Those detained were all trustees of a now-disbanded defence fund that helped pay legal and medical costs for those arrested during the huge and sometimes violent democracy protests three years ago.

The Vatican said at the time it was concerned by Zen’s arrest and “following the development of the situation very closely”.

Zen has been critical of the Vatican’s decision to reach a compromise with China over the appointment of bishops on the mainland, and critics have accused the Vatican of downplaying his arrest.