CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Being young and Catholic at Occupy Central

HONG KONG (UCAN): Young Catholic people in Hong Kong and Taiwan have published a collection of shared experiences from the Occupy Central Movement in Hong Kong and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, both of which took place in 2014. 

Although not directly related with each other they served as mutual encouragement in the push to advance democracy.

Published in Chinese, Conviction to Open an Umbrella was launched by the Hong Kong Diocesan Youth Commission on June 3.

The principal coordinator of the publication project, 28-year-old Esther Tam, described it as an effort to share a few reflections on the two movements, which climaxed several months apart, from the point of view of being young and being Catholic.

“I didn’t think too much at first, Tam said. “I only wanted to share my experience in the Umbrella Movement as a Catholic.”

In 2014, the massed crowds occupying the streets of downtown Hong Kong used umbrellas to protect themselves from pepper spray fired by police, prompting the media to dub the rally the Umbrella Movement.

Used interchangeably with Occupy Central to describe the massive 79-day a civil disobedience protest calling for democracy and universal suffrage in the special administrative region of Hong Kong, at its peak it put over 150,000 people into the streets.

Tam was a long time resident of the streets, camping out for almost the entire 79-day life span of the most extraordinary event.

She says that at one point, she felt lost and asked herself, “Why am I sitting here?” She spoke with a priest about her misgivings, who simply suggested she should try and imagine what Jesus would do in her situation.

“I thought if Jesus was at the scene, he would stay there,” she said, adding that she became more certain of this when she saw police pepper spraying unarmed students.

After the streets were cleared, Tam shared her feelings and experiences with a Catholic friend in Taiwan, David Chiu. The 35-year-old encouraged her to share her thoughts and experiences, as well as those of her Catholic friends who joined the movement.

Chiu, a computer programmer, encouraged Tam to publish the book, because prior to Occupy Central, he had experienced the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan.

It was driven by a coalition of students and civic groups, peaking between March 18 and 10 April 2014. Chiu said that people were angry at the passing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement by the ruling Kuomintang Party, which had not had a clause-by-clause review in the legislature.

“It impacted on most Taiwanese Catholics aged 20 to 30,” Chiu related.

He thinks that young Catholic people in Taiwan should put more stress on linking their faith with daily life, especially when it comes to politics. 

“Many have their viewpoints, but those who use the Church perspective to analyse issues are a minority,” he noted.

“The publication is a good opportunity for Chinese readers to reflect on themselves, whether they support the Umbrella Movement or not,” Chiu added.

Cecile Lee, a pastoral worker with the commission, said “Social concern is one of our topics for Catholic youth gatherings.”

She added that she believes that now is a good time for this book to appear, as it is about how to be young and Catholic, and how to participate in social movements from the perspective of faith.

More than 30 young Catholic people contributed to the book. One of them, Rivalino Chung, volunteered to offer counselling to those camped out in the streets.

“The movement was beyond anyone’s expectations,” Chung wrote. “My confidence was shaken when facing the dark atmosphere.”

But when he saw a group of young Catholics praying in the occupied area, he found peace with them. “I made a confession in the prayer zone to be reconciled with God, as I had lost trust in him.”

Tam said the book differs from those that record or analyse the Umbrella Movement from a political or financial perspective. Instead, she said that it focusses on the relationship between the participants and their faith.

“It is how faith affects their involvement in the movement,” Tam explained. “It is not just a factual experiential sharing, but a profound reflection.”

Lee added, “So far, all 1,000 copies of the book have been sold since it was published in May. It is a sign that their hard work is recognised by others.”

Freeman Leung, who attended the launch, said he hopes more young people will become politically active despite the ongoing political difficulties in Hong Kong.

“The bible and the Church’s social teaching brings us hope and guidance,” Leung said. “Giving us confidence to participate in politics and social movements… the book gives me inspiration,” he continued.

“Before the movement, we just voted for the pro-democratic parties,” he explained. “But now, young people organise their own political parties to join the District Council and the Legislative Council elections.”

However, Tam says that the struggle is far from over. “While the situation in Hong Kong is not too good, we have to stay vigilant,” she warned. “And try to understand what is happening, link up with our faith and look for an appropriate method to practice justice.”

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