CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Two million voices raised in protest

HONG KONG (SE): On June 16, Victoria Park was the starting point for a second Sunday of protests against the government’s ill-conceived extradition amendment bill. The organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front, estimated that a record two million people, from all sectors of society, joined the march from the park to the Central Government Offices in Admiralty. 
 
The police, who kept a low profile this go around, claimed that the turnout was 338,000 at its peak. Earlier that day, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun celebrated a morning Mass for Trinity Sunday at the promenade at Tamar Park. 
 
Prior to the start of the protest march, around 1,000 people gathered at the Victoria Park music kiosk to pray for a peaceful event, and that the government would listen to the voices of the people of Hong Kong. The prayer service was organised by the Justice and Peace Commission, Diocesan Youth Commission, The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, the youth group, Boiling Point, as well as other Catholic groups.  
 
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, finally backed down on June 15 in the face of public sentiment and said that the extradition bill would be suspended without setting a new time frame for its reintroduction, however the announcement failed to appease the public, who are leery of China’s justice system, human rights record, and the chances of a fair trial there.
 
At the prayer service before the June 12 rally, Bishop Ha said that the march is meant to clearly demonstrate that the people of Hong Kong would not accept the extradition bill even if it was suspended. He said the power of the people comes from their conscience, which can awaken the conscience of others. He said that as a Catholic, the way to do this is through love. He reminded those present that the love of Jesus Christ has awakened the consciences of people over many generations.
 
He urged the protestors that day to fight for justice in peace.
 
The bishop said, “Even though the government did many things that we don’t like and were very wrong, we cannot demonise them, because this is not our faith.” He noted that government officials and law enforcers are Hong Kong people and God’s children as well.
 
Participants prayed for a change of heart on the part of the government, for wisdom and a sense of conscience for legislators and the safety of young people as well as justice for the people injured in the June 12 protest.
 
The gathering concluded with a blessing and commissioning led by Bishop Ha together with the clergy present, including Father John Wotherspoon, Father Igatius Lo King-Ip, Father Paul Vallat, Father Dominique Mukonda and Father Heribertus Hadiarto.
 
As the rally officially began at 2.40pm, a sea of black-clad protestors quickly flooded into Causeway Road and Hennessy Road in Causeway Bay, eventually the sea of people also overflowed into Lockhart Road and Jaffe Road. They shouted slogans and held up banners demanding the withdrawal of the bill, the release of protestors arrested on June 12 and the stepping down of Lam. They also shouted that the protestors on June 12 were not mobs or causing a riot as initially characterised by the government and the police. 
 
Lam eventually issued an apology via a press statement at 8.30pm. However major roads remained full of protesters who yet to reach the Central Government Offices by the time the march was officially declared over at 11.00pm.
 
At midnight, during a prayer service outside the government offices, Bishop Ha, who had been singing hymns with protestors there for hours, said that the people of Hong Kong should be proud of having taken part in a huge protest in a peaceful way—something rarely seen in other parts of the world.
 
On June 17, the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students held a memorial service at Tamar Park for a 35-year-old protestor who fell to his death at Pacific Place, Admiralty, on June 15 while trying to hang a protest banner from some construction scaffolding.
 
Eventually, on June 18, a solemn-looking Lam publicly apologised saying, “I have heard you loud and clear, and have reflected deeply on all that has transpired … I personally have to shoulder much of the responsibility… This has led to controversies, disputes and anxieties in society. For this I offer my most sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong.”

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