Big rally in Hong Kong for religious freedom and the release of bishops and priests
by Annie Lam
Led by Card Zen, Hong Kong Catholics call on China to respect religious freedom and stop unlawful Episcopal ordinations. Outside the mainland’s Liaison Office, protesters condemned the torture and abduction of clergymen.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – More than 100 Catholics, led by Card Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, staged a protest last night (feast day of Saints Peter and Paul) outside the Liaison Office, China’s central government office in Hong Kong, to condemn China’s inhuman treatment of the clergy and demand the release of detained Church people.
Catholic representative Patrick Poon, who spoke at the rally outside, said Hong Kong Catholics were “forced to take to the street” because “human rights, particularly religious freedom,” of Chinese Catholics “have been seriously violated to an intolerable situation”.
Dozens of local police officers were stationed outside the office and along the way.
Poon also spoke about the “sad and regrettable illicit ordination” that took place in Leshan (Sichuan) yesterday. He mentioned also the legitimate ordination that was prevented from taking place in Handan (Hebei) where bishop-designate was kept away and his personal freedom endangered.
“The Chinese government’s obstinate move to continue the illicit ordinations is a serious show of disrespect for the Church and creates division and pain within the Churchn which we strongly protest,” he said.
Catholics demonstrated after attending a Mass presided by Cardinal Zen at a nearby chapel. The liturgy celebrated the feast day with prayers for the persecuted and suffering in China. The event was organised by the Hong Kong diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission.
Holding placards, banners and a big cross, the protesters sang hymns. Yellow ribbons were tied onto the barricade outside the gate of China’s Liaison Office, each with the name of a missing or detained member of the clergy onto. As usual, no one from the Office would receive the protesters’ letter, which was placed at the gate.
Protesters urged the government to investigate the cases of tortured priests. They also demanded apologies and compensations.
Poon said that priests in Zhangjiakou (Hebei) have been forced to accept so-called “priest-permit” and to follow the government-imposed principle of “independent, autonomous and self-organised Church”.
He cited the cases of Father Zhang Guangjun of Xuanhua (Hebei), who was badly beaten, and Father Chen Hailong, also of Xuanhua, who was taken away by officials on 9 April and whose whereabouts is still unknown.
Catholics are “concerned about the personal safety of all the clergymen who have disappeared or who have been detained for merely being loyal to their faith and for exercising their freedom of religion as enshrined in the Chinese Constitution,” Poon added.
Tomorrow is the 79th birthday of Bishop Su Zhimin of Baoding (Hebei), who has been missing for 14 years after he disappeared in 1997. He has spent one third of his life in detention.
“The Chinese authorities’ cruel and inhumane treatment against Bishop Su is outrageous,” Poon said.
Protesters also demanded to know the whereabouts of other clergymen, including Fr Lu Genjun of Baoding and Bishop Shi Enxiang of Yixian.
They also demanded the release of all detained Church people, including Fr Ma Wuyong and Fr Liu Honggeng of Baoding, and Fr Li Huisheng of Xiwanzi.
Catholics hope that Chinese authorities will “respect citizens’ freedom of religion and clergymen’s freedom of conscience as well as stop all unlawful ordinations of bishops,” Poon said.
Photo courtesy: Justice and Peace Commission, Hong Kong