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A year of tightening screws on freedom

HONG KONG (SE): The year 2015 opened with an appeal from Pope Francis to use shopping habits to help make peace. He pointed out that a modern form of slavery exists in the sweatshop, which sows the seeds of tension across the world and discerning shopping is part of addressing this.

While the topic of climate change and protection of the natural environment has been on the world agenda for years, it had never raised much more than a ripple in the Church.

However, the anticipated encyclical from Pope Francis prompted Catholic people to up the ante and the Global Catholic Climate Movement was launched in Manila on January 14.

A press release from the group described it as the first time that a global Catholic group had been formed to address the profound moral and spiritual implications of the failure of humankind to care for God’s creation.

The unresolved issue of ministry to the same-sex attracted in the Church was again investigated in Hong Kong with a visit from the Courage Ministry in the United States of America by psychologist, Tim Loch, and Father Paul Check.

“Individuals experiencing same-sex attraction may think, correctly, that the culture of the Church may not embrace, care, help or like them,” Loch said. He added that often the struggle is fundamentally one of identity, rather than same-sex attraction, but the call to the Church is to remember grace and compassion rather than pass judgements.

A statement from the director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs in China sparked fears that 2015 would be another year of tension between Church and state.

Wang Zuoan said that it is important to remember that the laws of the state must be obeyed and his call for democracy within the Church was interpreted as a threat to ordain more bishops illicitly.

Although this did not eventuate, the Church in China experienced a year of tightening control across the country and anxiety over what would come out of a high level Communist Party meeting on religion, which has been postponed time and time again, was heightened.

In February, preparation got under way for the much anticipated Synod on Family Life scheduled for October, with the release of a questionnaire to glean input from the rank and file.

A gathering held on February 6 at the Tak Sun School showed difficulty in finding an adequate number of people capable of understanding the questionnaire and collating responses in the short time frame that was allowed for the diocese to respond.

William Tong, who organised the response, called it an opportunity to look at ourselves in terms of living our faith in the context of family in society, as well as an invitation to conversation.

However, as Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang said, the fact that opinions are being sought is in itself an important step and he encouraged people to work in groups, rather than attempt to tackle the questionnaire individually.

With rising tensions in Xinjiang province in China, a year of tightening security began, which resulted in some repressive legislation being passed at the end of the year and a series of prohibitions directed at the Muslim population, which many saw as aggravating the situation.

The January visit of Pope Francis to Sri Lanka was credited with preventing a coup d’état by the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was widely expected to usurp power after defeat in the presidential election. He had been criticised for using the pope’s photograph in his election campaign material.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement put a new dimension on fasting in Lent with the launch of a Fast for Climate Justice.

An elaborate, yet simple education programme was part of the call, suggesting different types of fast for each day, explaining why consuming less of a certain food or material is good for the health of the environment.

On April 17 and 19, the story of salvation history was told in Cantonese Opera by a group from the Bonfire Café at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Believed to be a first, the script writer and lyricist, Chan Kam-wing, said that the opera shows that Jesus belongs to the whole world and is no stranger to any culture. The work was six years in the making.

As rumours spread in May that the One Child Policy may become a thing of the past, a group of elderly people gathered in Beijing saying that their isolation and poverty is a direct result of population control.

On 1 January 2016, the policy underwent a nuanced numerical adjustment to become a two-child affair, but as to whether it will ease the pain of those who suffer the consequences of the one-child regime is doubtful.

Also in May, China dropped more hints that it would crack down on foreign influence on religious life with an attack on Islamic schools. As the year progressed, articles appeared in state media giving Christian Churches the same warning.

In Hong Kong, the diocese released its findings from the family life questionnaire. It showed that parishes are the greatest influence on the Christian understanding of marriage and that an anthropological and biblical-theological understanding is the biggest lack.

Many people said that they find it difficult to apply biblical understanding to daily life, but added that membership of Catholic groups is the greatest teacher in this area.

The much underrated role of lay people in foreign mission got a shot in the arm with the first Asian Lay Missionary Forum held at the Holy Spirit College in Hong Kong from May 22 to 25.

The first lay missionaries from Hong Kong were commissioned in the early 1980s and since that time their number across Asia has increased radically.

The superior general of the Columban Mission Society, Father Kevin O’Neill, stressed that mission is an activity of God and we should not think of the Church as having a mission.

He said that rather, it is mission that has a Church.

Jesuit Father Sean O’Cearbhallain said that there is often a confusion between mission and service, and reminded the gathering that mission is gospel-inspired, whereas service is inspired by the needs of the people.

Hong Kong again marked the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre on June 4. Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing called on the Chinese authorities to recognise that there are people who are wounded and that they have a responsibility to tend to them.

“We are here to tell those in authority to heed the voice of conscience, to tend to the wound that has been there for 26 years and has become a great moral burden… It is time to face it,” the bishop said.

The Church reacted against the electoral proposals put forward for Hong Kong on June 13 with a way of the cross through the streets of Central calling on people to say no to fake universal suffrage.

Fears of illicit ordination of bishops were temporarily quelled when Father Joseph Zhang Yinlin was ordained for Anyang diocese with government and Vatican approval, becoming the first since 2012 and since Pope Francis became bishop of Rome.

In August, the cross removal campaign in Zhejiang reached a crescendo after about 15 months, during which some 1,500 crosses were removed from Church buildings and some churches had been demolished.

Observers speculate that the government sees the Church as a foreign influence that needs to be curbed and as the cross removal seems to have died down, a process of Sinicisation has been promoted, which appears to be aimed at bringing more influence of socialism into Church life and tying it more closely with Communist Party ideals.

In August, a Protestant minister in Hong Kong was called to China for questioning about his Hong Kong website and Christians held crosses in front of the China Liaison Office in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in China.

In September, the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, issued a pastoral letter calling on the government to strengthen marriage, not redefine it, as pressure built in the city for legislation on same-sex marriage.

He said that marriage is not just a label and love alone does not turn something that is not a marriage into one. He quoted a Chinese adage as saying, “Pointing to a deer and calling it a horse.”

In September the Asian bishops signed the Catholic Climate Petition at a gathering in Hong Kong and later in the year the diocese launched an education campaign to take the message into parishes and Church groups.

As terrorism proliferated across the world, Churches the world over followed Pope Francis in opening the holy door, an invitation to the world to repent, ask forgiveness for wrong doing and work for peace among all peoples.

All up, 2015 was a year that saw many types of attack of many kinds on freedom and a tightening of the screws on liberties in China.


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