CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Prayers for peace as the city witnesses increased protest violence

HONG KONG (SE): John Cardinal Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, led around 800 people in a prayer for peace and healing during a Mass concelebrated with Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, Father Peter Choy Wai-man and nearly 20 priests from the diocese at St. Francis of Assisi Church, Shek Kip Mei, on August 23..
In the face of the ongoing crisis caused by the now-suspended extradition bill, the congregation was reminded to stay rooted in faith and hope. Cardinal Tong led prayers for the healing of trauma caused by the conflicts in Hong Kong over the past two months. The gathering also prayed for better understanding and openness to dialogue among all the Hongkongers.
Referring to the first reading from the Book of Ruth, Father Choy said in his homily that the family of Ruth responded to famine in Bethlehem by leaving the city, as they failed to see hope with faith. But it was only Ruth who understood that her trials were a way to salvation and returned to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law. 
“The story of Ruth reminds us that trials, worries, grievances and anger in our hearts can sometimes make us lose hope. When faced with trials, our faith in God may not be strong enough to accept that he permits them in our lives as a way to save us,” Father Choy said. 
He added that the present crisis in Hong Kong is not just about whether the now-suspended bill should be withdrawn, as it has also drawn our attention to other more deep-rooted problems in Hong Kong such as the conflicts between people from mainland China and Hong Kong, political reform, housing and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
He believed that as these problems are tied up with one another and formed a big knot, people have tried to solve the crisis by their own strength and wisdom. In the process, some may face the issues with anger and resentment toward others, or even lose faith in the Church and in God. He said these feelings are understandable due to human frailty.
“But Ruth invites us to try to respond with a different attitude, that is, with faith, trust and understanding between people, and communication with one another without preconditions. Maybe it is the real way out,” he said. He urged those present to pray for hope, understanding, acceptance and dialogue in society.
Patsy Yeung told the Sunday Examiner before the Mass that she was not sure whether she should join the protesters in forming a human chain across the city or join the Mass, both were happening at the same time. But she finally chose to pray at the church. “It is also important to tell God about our demands and to pray for peace in Hong Kong,” she said. 
As a business person who often travels to China, she said there are some fundamental differences in values between people on the mainland and those in Hong Kong which are really hard to overcome. 
“We should not aim at solving the conflicts between us, as it is too difficult. The first step is to improve our relationship, which starts with frank communications,” she said.
She added that it can be a blessing in disguise that Hong Kong people can see clearly how the police can abuse their powers under pressure, and the crisis has highlighted a police force that needs reform.
Rosa Chow, another Mass participant, said she had joined peaceful protests before and she did not know what other efforts she could contribute, but she hopes that God will hear the voices raised up in the Mass and she believes that he has his plans. 
Cardinal Tong celebrated a Mass at the same parish on July 11 to express his closeness and pastoral accompaniment with the people who feel concerned about the issues related to the extradition bill (Sunday Examiner, July 21).
Meanwhile, media reported that on August 24, Cardinal Tong was among some 20 leading Hong Kong figures invited to Government House by the chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, to brainstorm about how to set up a dialogue to address the political unrest. 
“It has already been over two months, everyone feels tired, could we just sit down and talk?” Lam later posted on her Facebook page, adding, “What the government proposes is a long-term dialogue across classes, political spectrum, ages…” 
Government officials, she wrote, were willing to participate in any platform for dialogue.
Meanwhile, a demonstration on the morning of August 24, by relatives of police officers, called for an independent inquiry into police misconduct. The Hong Kong Free Press reported that they also called for the government to take responsibility for the crisis; for Lam to respond to public demands; senior police commanders to plan operations in a way as to minimise clashes; the establishment of a platform for dialogue between police and the public; and frontline officers to remain disciplined.
However, the marches in Kwun Tong that afternoon and Tsuen Wan the next day descended into chaos and violence. Events in Tsuen Wan saw police—confronted by radical protesters, unfazed by tear gas and wielding Molotov cocktails and metal rods—having to deploy water cannon for the first time in this period of crisis and, in one instance, draw their pistols and fire a warning shot into the air. 
Lam, however, still met with a cross-section of young people on Monday, August 26, in an attempt to reach out and begin a dialogue. According to the South China Morning Post, she spent her time listening and taking notes. One attendee reported her as saying, “I fully accept all your views and criticisms.”
On August 27, she told the media that dialogue did not equate to tolerating violence. “You would just imagine if, under the pretext of communication or starting a dialogue that we’re not going to enforce the laws in Hong Kong and tolerate all forms of violence and disruptions, that will be the end of the rule of law in Hong Kong,” RTHK reported her as saying.
Meanwhile, RTHK reported on August 27 that Lam Tai-fai, a former legislator and a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, advised the government to replace some top officials, saying it was “unrealistic” for it to come “empty-handed” and request a dialogue.

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