Bishop Zen to meet Chinese officials at Buddhist celebration

 Hong Kong's Roman Catholic Church leader, Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun was due to meet Beijing's top religious affairs official and a senior Communist Party member yesterday. Bishop Zen was to attend dinner last night with Ye Xiaowen, director-general of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, and Liu Yandong, a senior Communist Party official. Bishop Zen said the evening was intended as: "Merely a social gathering". Local Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian leaders were also attending the function to commemorate the Buddha's birthday. The sacred relic of the 'sasira' of Buddha, which is thought to be a bone from a finger of the founder of the Buddhist religion, arrived at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday. The fragment, which is considered one of the most important sacred objects of Chinese Buddhism, was seen off by a thousand monks from the temple of Famen in northwest China, 110 kilometres west of Xi'an, capital of the province of Shannxi, where it is normally kept, before heading for the former British colony. Thousands of Buddhists were waiting at the airport in Hong Kong, while others had positioned themselves near the exhibition centre where the relic has now been placed on display together with another 20 Buddhist treasures and works of art from Famen. Greeted by a procession of monks, the 'sasira' and the other sacred objects were taken to the centre in a vehicle painted with lotus flowers and welcomed with a religious ceremony. Local commentators have interpreted the 'loan' by Beijing as a gesture of propaganda aimed at placating Hong Kong citizens, who are irritated by the reluctance of the central Chinese authorities to allow them to elect their local political representatives directly. The relic is considered a harbinger of peace and good fortune; it was discovered in the foundations of the temple of Famen in 1987, since when it has left the place of worship on only three occasions, including today's transfer to Hong Kong. Source: MISNA /MOS