CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Hong Kong’s young Catholics fight for their future

Hong Kong (UCAN): Young Catholics are making their presence felt in Hong Kong’s rolling tide of protests demanding the permanent withdrawal of the government’s badly handled Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill which puts forward changes would allow extraditions to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition agreements including mainland China.
The proposed amendments have triggered massive demonstrations which were joined by a broad spectrum of Hongkongers, including  young people who fear they could eventually end up in mainland Chinese prisons.
Chief executive, Carrie Lam Yuet-ngor, suspended the bill on June 15 in the face of massive demonstrations and sit-ins, eventually declaring the bill “dead”—though not legislatively withdrawn—on July 9. Protestors are demanding its permanent and irrevocable withdrawal.
Various Churches and Christian organisations have been keeping up the pressure on Lam’s administration, perhaps most prominent among them being the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students (HKFCS), which was formed in the 1960s.
Edwin Chow, the acting president of the HKFCS, said that he believes the current political involvement is having a positive impact on public perceptions of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, adding that he Church needed to be “down to the earth” in seeking justice for ordinary people.
The 19-year-old, Chow was born into a Catholic family and is pursuing a university degree in Government and International Studies. He was politically influenced by young Hong Kong advocate, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, who in 2012 fought against the so-called National and Moral Education curriculum proposed by the Education Bureau, as well as by the 79-day Umbrella Movement of 2014 demanding more transparent and broadly mandated chief executive elections.
Apart from the massive anti-extradition rallies in June and July, Chow noted that more than 160,000 students, teachers, and alumni from 200 secondary schools signed a petition against the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance amendment bill. “Many young people fear that the amendment will violate our freedom,” Chow explained.
“They believe that if we do not act right now, we will never have a chance again. They want to protect their home,” he said.
Chow believes that young people generally have a responsibility to work for a better society and that this could also be done from a “Church perspective” and that studying at university often made people more eager to campaign for democratic freedoms, he added.
The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students became involved over the extradition bill controversy at an early stage and, by mid-May, it was already distributing leaflets demanding that the bill be scrapped. Since then, the banner of the HKFCS has loomed large at protests marches, rallies and prayer services.
Chow welcomed the fact that a special Sunday Mass was celebrated by Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, a former bishop of Hong Kong, noting that having a religious element helps keep protests peaceful.
A side benefit is that religious activities do not require prior police approval stipulated for political events and rallies.
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing became the most powerful religious figure during the protest movement in June by directly speaking at mass gatherings. Chow said Bishop Ha came across to many young people as a guiding shepherd and an advocate of peaceful dissent.
The student leader said that regular protests would continue until the extradition bill is permanently dumped.
“I think people learned from the Umbrella Movement that long term occupation of main roads will lose support of the ordinary citizen, so this time we changed our strategy to protest every week,” Chow explained.  
The HKFCS has planned to take the anti-extradition movement to a grassroots, parish level to win over more people.

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