CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Civic organisations crucial to unity

HONG KONG (SE): Civic and social organisations were encouraged to work towards unifying Hong Kong and improving society in the wake of the Umbrella Movement (September to December 2014) during a seminar held on December 18 at Holy Cross parish, Shaukiwan.

The seminar, hosted by the Justice and Peace Commission following its annual general meeting, looked at how to rebuild a sense of unity in the city. 

Father Stephen Chan Mun-hung pointed out that freedom of association is in line with the principle of subsidiarity, the concept that a central authority should undertake only those tasks which cannot be done effectively at a more immediate or local level—a key concept in Catholic social teaching. He believes the government must respect social organisations as they represent diverse voices in society.

He stressed that the first priority of the government should be the public interest and the welfare of the people, adding that the city had become polarised because subsidiary has not been exercised.

Father Chan observed that prior to the handover in 1997, the Hong Kong government was able to work well with non-government organisations on social welfare matters, but that there has since been an obvious change which has resulted in cooperation becoming problematic. 

He said that some newly-formed groups with political affiliations may find themselves at odds with traditional civic organisations from time to time. 

However, Father Chan believed that a proper civic group should be independent and stand on its own principles, adding that it would be good if it served a prophetic role as a pressure group speaking for the needs of the people.                                                                                                      

Civic groups rely on the awareness, support and enthusiasm of Hong Kong people and he had confidence in their future, Father Chan said.

Ma Ngok, an associate professor with the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, speaking on the development of social movements, said the Umbrella Movement, as well as the recent District Council elections, were impacted by the popularity of online social media. 

He explained that small social movements are formed by mobilising people online to address specific issues, differing from traditional social groupings which might come together at a face-to-face level through word of mouth, mutual acquaintance and personal trust. 

He said that although today’s social movements share the aim of expressing discontent over governance, there is disagreement, distrust and internal conflict, which is not good for the development of civil society.

The challenge lies in making people aware of the importance of unity and improving society through political participation, Ma said.

Catholic legislator, Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, an associate professor of political science at the Hong Kong Baptist University, pointed to the single-minded focus on economic gain and the present political and economic environment as a stumbling block and that Hong Kong needs to nurture a civil society built on universal values and moral foundations. 

At the annual general meeting, attended by Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun and Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, among others, Justice and Peace Commission chairperson, Paul Ng Wai-kit, together with other members elaborated on the commission’s work over the past year pertaining to democracy, foreign domestic workers, poverty, housing, religious freedom in China, human rights and other issues.

Bishop Ha voiced his encouragement in the light of the Jubilee of Mercy, noting that there would be many challenges in 2016. 

He expressed the hope that, with the Legislative Council elections and other issues looming on the horizon, the commission and lay people would deepen their understanding of justice and peace. 

The bishop also noted that the commission would be launching activities in  response to Pope Francis’ encyclical, Praise Be: Care for our common home (Laudato Si’).


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