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June 4: They are here… for justice and dignity

For many local Catholics, the annual commemoration to recall the bloody crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989 begins with a prayer vigil at a bandstand kiosk hundreds of metres away from the main event site at Victoria Park The gathering has attracted 800 to 1,000 of the faithful in recent years. 
 
This year, the theme was taken from Isaiah 6:8: Here I am. Send me. Speakers shared their reflections on how their participation in June 4 related events and the protesters in the original one in 1989 were examples of their Here I am decisions. 
 
“By seeing light even in the midst of darkness… by believing in peace even in the face of violence,” Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing said, the protesters chose to go to Tiananmen to show “humanity’s deepest desires for peace, justice and democracy.” 
 
Likewise, knowing the Father’s love for all, Jesus asked to be sent to testify to divine love in the world and eventually to die for this, thus becoming “the foundation and the fulfillment” of all who have witnessed for the value of humanity in history.
 
The gathering responded to each testimony with Chinese verses to the music of the hymn, Here I am, Lord. At the end of the vigil, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun gave the benediction. Then, as always, the emcee encouraged the audience to join to the main event in the football fields. 
 
As in past years, the main commemorative ceremony included chanting of slogans such as “Vindicate 6-4!”, the singing of pro-democracy songs from the 6-4 (June 4) era, bowing three times in honour of the victims and broadcasting a taped message from the Tiananmen Mothers who lost their children in the crackdown and who, in the video, thanked Hongkongers for continuing the commemoration. 
 
The organisers announced that 180,000 people were in attendance, the largest crowd since 2014. The six football fields at Victoria Park were filled to capacity and late arrivals were directed to the grass lawn nearby.
 
As this was the 30th anniversary of June 4 and the commemoration has gone on for three decades with no acknowledgement of wrongdoing from Beijing, some may wonder whether activities like this have any significance. For some participants, this is a moot question for there seems to be something both specifically important and universally meaningful in marking the events of June 4.
 
A 30-something staffer with the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong (JPC) said the prayer vigil keeps the fire for justice burning for the victims and allows all to pray for democracy in China. She will continue to help in the vigil “because June 4 has not been vindicated yet.” 
 
It is the same desire for justice for the dead that has motivated a retired parish worker in his 60s to attend the event at Victoria Park. “I think it’s very important that we use our voices and actions to express our demands for justice,” he said. He added that people’s persistence in participating will “awaken the conscience in more and more people…and eventually bring about a fair assessment of June 4.”
 
A middle-aged couple from New York, the United States (US), echoed the view that commemoration events are necessary. This is especially so because China’s growing power may leave the truth about the June 4 crackdown hidden for a long time to come. “I am here for the same reasons others who keep coming have,” the wife, who was born in Hong Kong before emigrating to the US, said. “I can’t let the regime keep abusing human rights. I can’t let the victims die in vain.”
 
Human rights is yet another aspect of June 4 that weighs on the minds of participants in the commemoration events. Echoing Bishop Ha’s comment on the original protesters’ quest for “the deepest human desires for peace, justice, and democracy,” for these participants, what happened in 1989 is not just about China, it has a broader meaning for people in Hong Kong and across the world. 
 
“This idea of speaking the truth is very fundamental in being human,” the Hong Kong expatriate said. This was something at stake in 1989 and, given the “drastic erosion of freedom” in Hong Kong recently, it is crucial for Hongkongers and people across the globe to be vigilant against assaults on the freedom of speech and political association. 
 
Her husband, a born-and-bred white American agreed. The June 4 crackdown violated universal respect for freedom.
 
Likewise, the Justice and Peace Commission staffer said, “June 4 is about human dignity,” which is universal in nature and fundamental in the Catholic faith. She believed that expressing concern and support for human dignity might be the reason that foreigners attend the Victoria Park events every year. 
 
Similarly, the retired parish worker saw in June 4 the Church teachings on justice for all people. To him it is nothing less than a “duty and obligation to stand up for one’s belief in justice” for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. 
 
Whether looking at June 4 as being specifically about the victims of the crackdown, or about humanity in a broader context, there was a sense of hope among the participants—and probably among many others— in Victoria Park this year. 
 
The JPC worker will keep coming until there is vindication. The Hong Kong expatriate recognises that the achievement of democracy can take a long time, even decades, to happen. “I’ll keep coming (to the commemoration) till I die,” she said. 
 
Perhaps the parish retiree summed it up best: “I still believe that evil can never win. This is a cosmic law that no one can change.” 
 
So here they were, attendees walking the talk for justice for the victims and respect for human dignity with a sense of hope. As the other 180,000 attendees in Victoria Park and the 1.03 million Hongkongers who marched against the extradition bill on 9 June showed, they are not the only ones who answered the call like the protesters in 1989.

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