CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A prayer and a march in search of courage

HONG KONG (SE): The traditional ecumenical prayer meeting that has been held prior to the July 1 march lost its old spot in Victoria Park this year, as did the organisers of the march, who lost their gathering ground to the celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty.
The Civil Human Rights Front was informed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department in May this year that its traditional rallying spot on the six football pitches had been pre-booked, robbing both the prayer service and the march of their usual vantage points.
While the march had to rally at the much smaller grassed area at the back of the park, the prayer service retreated to the Methodist Church in Wan Chai.
But despite the double-barrelled set back, over 66,000 people marched through the streets and around 200 gathered to pray that the people will not lose hope in the power of the democratic movement, even though it has not managed to move even one inch forward in the special administrative region of Hong Kong over the past two decades.
Organised by the Justice and Peace Commission, the Commission for Labour Affairs, the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, the Hong Kong Christian Institute and Christians for Hong Kong Society, as well as the Christian Social Concern Fellowship, the gathering prayed for Hong Kong, especially in the areas of democratic development, labour rights, the rule of law and freedom of speech.
Special prayers were offered for the unconditional release of 2010 Nobel laureate and human rights advocate, Liu Xiaobo, who has been diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer.
Liu was jailed in 2009 for his part in the authoring of the controversial Charter 08, a high profile document calling for democracy and transparency in the deliverance of human rights in China.
People were invited to write their desired blessing for Liu on postcards that were distributed at the gathering, which are to be posted to the First Hospital of China Medical University in Shenyang, Liaoning province, where Liu is being treated under police surveillance.
Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing listed off a series of setbacks that he believes the wider society in Hong Kong has suffered over the past two decades, especially in the area of democratic development.
The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong described the experience as disappointing, highlighting the 831 Decision announced by the Standing Committee of the National Peoples Congress on 31 August 2014, which he said further circumscribed the appointment of the chief executive with new conditions designed to block any advance in the democratic way.
The Franciscan bishop added that the principle of One country, two systems, which is touted as promoting and supporting a high degree of autonomy in the city seems to have lost its significance with Beijing's repeated interference in areas of the city's governance, which are believed to come under the local autonomy banner.
He described much of Hong Kong society as being in a hopeless situation with issues surrounding livelihood showing no signs of improvement. He cited the ever widening gap between rich and poor, unaffordable property prices, overdue legislation on standard working hours and the lack of retirement protection as being the devils in the woodpile.
Despite the darkening clouds that hung over the city on the day and the increasingly darkening prospects of moving forward, Bishop Ha said, "We pray that God will help us not to feel discouraged and not to give up even though there is no immediate achievement."
He urged people not to lose hope in the fight for the rights of labour and not to allow the darkening clouds hanging over the freedom of the people to dampen their enthusiasm and commitment.
The bishop urged them to place their faith in the love of God which can open the eyes of Christian people to the lack of respect for human dignity in the present policies Hong Kong is labouring under.
He stressed that in order to keep up their strength to fight for change, human dignity must always be kept in sharp focus.

But the bishop also had words of caution, reminding people that the real prophet is never complacent nor yields to human weaknesses by losing sight of the importance of peace and nonviolence in their struggle.
Reverend Lee Ting-sun compared the humble entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem with the visit of the president of China, Xi Jinping, to Hong Kong.
He said the two days that he had spent in the city were absolute evidence of the push to exclude the general public from playing a role in public affairs.
Reverend Lee pointed to the fear of approaching people that Xi demonstrated, which he said was reflected in what he described as excessive protection by police and security.
The Methodist minister said that he did not understand the need for the high security measures, unless they were a display of the power of authority in the face of the powerlessness of the people.
He described the governance of Hong Kong since the handover as showing an emphasis on consolidation of the power of the ruling classes in place of justice, a situation which he believes has caused deep conflict between people and the government of the territory.
Reverend Lee called this a recipe for disaster, as justice and fairness are the real elements that can strengthen both governance and cohesion in society.
He prayed that God may grant those in power the wisdom to understand and comprehend what is on people's minds.
The words of Bishop Ha and Reverend Lee were backed up by participants at the prayer service, with Teresa Chan Lai-ming saying she can see many incidents of injustice since the handover.
She specifically cited the disappearances of the booksellers from Causeway Bay Books two years ago, which shows that people in Hong Kong are not beyond the reach of the long arm of lawlesness in Beijing.
Chan said she is especially agitated by the inhuman treatment of Liu, as she believes anyone, no matter what they may be convicted of, deserves proper medical attention.
She said she was not surprised that the government would not allow the march to rally at its traditional spot this year, as she believes it was an attempt to silence the people's voice while the president of China was in Hong Kong.
She described it as another example of the high-handed approach of the outgoing chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, to suppress political movements.
However, she insisted that she would go to the rally anyway, which walked under the theme of Reclaim Hong Kong, Democratic Self-Determination, in a call to place Hong Kong affairs in the hands of the people, not Beijing.
Gregory Ma Kam-ting said he came to the Methodist church to pray for Liu. He too described Liu's treatment as unreasonable and said he believes that he should not be treated under surveillance in the last stage of his life.
The prayer gathering concluded with a blessing and commissioning ceremony led by members of the clergy and in his closing prayer, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun said nothing is impossible for God and reminded all present not to lose hope.
However, neither the rally nor the prayer service are about numbers, but rather the depth and sincerity of the sentiments expressed by the people in their quest for human dignity as children of God.


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