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Keeping the memory of Tiananmen alive

HONG KONG (SE): “I am here to learn how to carry on the tradition of keeping the memory alive,” a 16-year-old said at a prayer service held at the kiosk in Victoria Park prior to the candlelight vigil in memory of those who suffered and died in the massacre at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on 4 June 1989.

Standing with her mother, she spoke of the importance of learning how to keep the memory of past atrocities fresh in order that they may never be repeated and promised to pass the same memory onto her own children when the time comes.

Wong Yik-ling said that she began bringing her primary school-age son to the vigil two years ago so that he can come to understand and remember what happened at Tiananmen. “I want him to know how to respect life and understand the importance of justice and freedom,” she said.

The over 1,000 people who gathered to pray remembered the shocking violence of that early morning 23 years ago, as they asked God to touch the hardened hearts of those who seek to protect their own privilege and power by wreaking violence on others.

They also prayed for a just resolution to what happened on that fateful day, prompting the teenager’s mother to tell her daughter, “I hope by the time you have your children it will not be necessary to come here any more.”

Organised by the Union of Hong Kong Catholic Organisations in Support of the Patriotic and Democratic Movement in China, an alliance made up of the Justice and Peace Commission, the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students and the Franciscan Justice and Peace Team, each participant received a plastic swizzle with the figures 8964 engraved on it, an item banned in China because of the reference to the date of the massacre.

A swizzle stick is used to stir a drink and people were reminded of the gospel story of the Pool of Bethesda, whose waters, when stirred, had the power to heal (John 5:2-9).

They came together to pray for healing and asked for the courage to always believe that it can be achieved, while also reminding each other that they came to pass it on.

Brother Raymond Yeung Yin, from the Franciscan Justice and Peace Team, reminded people that God is love and that the virtue of love begets a sense of right and wrong.

“Joining the candlelight vigil each year is a way of responding to God’s will,” he told the gathering.

Lina Chan Lai-na, from the Justice and Peace Commission, encouraged people not to give up the struggle for democracy or place personal interest ahead of that of the whole of society.

She added that as what the students died for in Tiananmen has still yet to become a reality, we must pass on our dedication to the democratic way of life.

A record attendance of more than 180,000 people flocked to the park on June 4 to keep the memory of Tiananmen alive, many of them wearing school uniforms while young parents trailed toddling children, wheeled infants in prams or carried them on their backs.

The predominance of young people holding candles in the balmy night air is testament to their understanding that freedom of expression and the right to become the people God wants them to be is something that, if not protected, can be lost.

Father Simon Li Chi-yuen said that we must always try to live positively even though we feel pain and sorrow. “We must never give up the struggle to build a democratic society and have confidence that one day it will become a reality in China too,” he said.

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