In his Good Friday homile Pope Benedict XVI alluded to the Christians who were thrown to the lions in the Colosseum 2000 years ago. Whether that indeed happened or not it is good to see that the pope cares about anybody's human rights, living or dead. What possible good the pope intends to do two millenia after the fact for those dusty martyrs, and whether the flesh and bone ones who are at this very moment being martyred for the faith in places like China and Cuba will have to wait 2000 years for another pope to take cognizance of their sacrifice (and to the same effect), must remain one of those inscrutable mysteries which mortal man must renounce knowing but can certainly make some well-founded speculations upon. Perhaps we cannot expect the pope to utter one word on behalf of Buddhists being butchered in Tibet by Chinese Communists (that kind of ecumenism is altogether too Christian for Catholicism to tolerate), but there are also millions of Catholics throughout China who face the same persecution and merit not a word of recognition much less solidarity from the pope.
Not that the pope ignored China. Like his predecessor, Benedict has been "cultivating" the Chinese Communists since he became pope. Although he never alludes to the persecution of the faithful in China, the pope is fond of including Chinese tokens in his masses. This time he asked the archbishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen, to compose meditations to be read at all the stations of the Cross. Zen admits the Vatican warned him not to include anything in his meditations that might give offence to Beijing as the pope is "eager for the Vatican and China's Communist government to establish diplomatic ties." And once such ties are established, as in Cuba, the Vatican will continue to observe a moratorium on criticism of the Communists in order to maintain those ties in good repair.
When, then, will come the space for criticism let alone condemnation? The answer is never. Remember Christ's injunction about "giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God?" Well, it has been reformulated for our times. Now Caesar can ascribe to himself the prerogatives of the Church -- in China's case, going so far as to appoint the bishops -- but the Church must cede to Caesar absolute authority to savage the people of Christ. If ancient paganism fed Christians to the lions it must have done so without opposition from the Church. Their heirs today continue to persecute the faithful with the Church's tacit approval. Neutrality in the face of evil is complicity.
Well, this will make everybody's Easter more joyful, I'm sure. Pope Benedict has donated the collection from one of the Holy Thursday masses to a Cuban orphanage (the first such donation to Cuba ever). The Associated Press notes that the Vatican has worked hard in recent years to "rebuild credibility with Havana, opposing the U.S. embargo and keeping an arm's length from the exile community in Florida." Cuban exiles should certainly return the favor on Easter and keep an arm's length from the collection plate.