CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Church in Hong Kong steps up support for edgy and emotional city

HONG KONG (SE): John Cardinal Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, celebrated a special Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Shek Kip Mei at 8.00pm on July 11, to express his closeness and pastoral accompaniment with the people disturbed and upset over the incidents related to the government’s now-suspended extradition bill. Held on the Feast of St. Benedict, it was organised by the Catholic Ad Hoc Group set up by the diocesan chancery to provide support for those affected by the issues related to the extradition bill. 
The Mass was attended by around 500 people and concelebrated by Cardinal Tong, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, parish priest, Father Paul Tam Wing-ming and a number of other priests of the diocese. It was offered for those who passed away and those who sustained injuries, as well as for the Hong Kong government to take responsibility and prioritise the welfare of the people. 
The ad hoc group also organised prayer services for teachers and school chaplains at Christ the Worker parish, Ngau Tau Kok, on July 12; for young people at St. Andrew’s parish, Tseung Kwan O on July 13; and for parents at Holy Cross parish, Sai Wan Ho, on July 14. Bishop Ha, Father Benedict Lam Cho-ming and a group of spiritual advisors led the sharing sessions during which the participants were able to voice their views. 
During the Mass in Shek Kip Mei, Cardinal Tong said that it was really heartbreaking to learn that some had lost their lives and that many were injured protesting against the extradition bill. He said he could see that people were in conflict because of different views on the bill and as well the police handling of the protestors. He appreciated the idealistic young people who were willing to contribute to the city and came up with their demands because of their love for Hong Kong. 
The cardinal said he was saddened to hear that some of them suffering depression or even in despair. Referencing St. Benedict, he said the Benedictines reminded us of the importance of prayers when facing social problems. 
“They show us a good example of how to promote peace, unity and harmony among people,” he said. According to the Rule of St. Benedict, the monastery is a microcosm of society in which the abbot humbly listens to the views of members, particularly the young ones, at regular meetings. 
He said the people of Hong Kong really care about the welfare of the next generation, as seen in the strong support for students who received the results of the Diploma of Secondary Education a day earlier on July 10. However, he said the city would have real peace only when different generations can listen to one another. 
One participant, Jackie Lo, said she came to Mass to pray for and give thanks to the young protestors who had fought for the withdrawal of the bill. She said that due to their efforts, the extradition bill does not yet threaten freedom of speech and assembly. She said the four suicide cases related to the issue are alarms for Hong Kong and she really hopes that no more young people will kill themselves.
Maria Wong, another participant, said she attended a memorial service in Edinburgh Place, Central, the day before for a student of the Institute of Education who committed suicide to show her frustration as the government did not respond to the requests of the protestors. She felt sad to see that young people chose to give up their lives while feeling despair. 
Gabriel Meu who had joined the protest against the extradition bill in Admiralty on June 12, told the Sunday Examiner that he was extremely angry about the violence used by the police. He recalled that when he was peacefully protesting with others near CITIC Tower, the police suddenly and violently attacked the crowd with teargas from both ends of the street leaving them nowhere to escape. 
He said the police were in a haste to clear the way without thinking about their safety, and the actions nearly resulted in a stampede. 
Meu said an independent inquiry committee to look at how the police dealt with the protestors is urgent. 
On July 4, Cardinal Tong expressed concerns and worries over people facing depression due to the unrest triggered by the extradition bill. He hoped that the Hong Kong government would look for a solution for the present problem with the support of different sectors as soon as possible. 
“Above all, we call for a ‘reconnect’ with our young people through dialogue, that we may attend to their aspirations and grievances, and help them to rediscover their goals in life,” the cardinal said.
The cardinal also called on the social welfare institutions to keep playing a supportive role. “We call on the social service sector to carry on its role of alleviating the pains and wounds of our young people, helping them to aim at a life that is fulfilling. The Diocese of Hong Kong will avail of its resources to give support to social workers,” he said.
In an attempt to end the political crisis, chief executive, Carrie Lam, declared during a press conference on July 9 that the extradition bill “is dead” and that the government had no plan to restart the legislative process.
Lam had previously said on June 15 that the bill was suspended and “will die” in 2020 when the current Legislative Council term ends. However, people felt this was just wordplay and came up short. They demanded the government officially and clearly state that the bill is withdrawn. The chief executive has yet to respond. 
Further protest gatherings were scheduled in different districts, such as Sheung Shui on July 13, Shatin on July 14 and from Causeway Bay to Admiralty or the Court of Final Appeal in Central on either July 20 or July 21. 
The protest in Shatin ended in violent scuffles between protestors and the police in New Town Plaza leaving two protestors in critical condition and four in serious condition in hospital, according to a report of the South China Morning Post. Around 10 police officers have also sustained injuries.

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