10/15/2014, 00.00
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Occupy Central: churches, a refuge for those who want democracy

The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wanchai - the nearest to the great mass of people gathered at Admiralty - has been open day and night since 28 September to offer shelter and comfort to those who protest against Beijing's oppression. In the churches of the Territory, people are praying every day, asking for protection of pro-democracy activists and for their intentions. Some members of the local Filipino community remember, "they had been in Manila during People Power in 1986 and understand the importance of the fight that Hong Kong is engaged in."

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/SE) - Churches showed that they are still a place of sanctuary as the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Wanchai, the church closest to the mass of people gathered in Admiralty for the Umbrella Movement, kept its doors open throughout the night of September 28 and following days as a place of respite and refuge for weary protesters.

The parish priest, Father John Cuff, announced during the day that the church doors would remain open into the night as a comfort centre for people in need of a rest or assistance.

He said that he had received a call from the vicar general of the diocese, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, asking that Wanchai act as a place of comfort and respite for anyone in need.

However, up to 9.00pm no one had come, but as the night wore on and word spread through Catholic Youth communication channels people began to file in.

At a prayer service held in the church earlier in the evening, six graduates from St. Francis' Canossian College, replete with their survival kits, came to pray for a while before joining the gathering on the streets.

The young people at the parish agreed to act as hosts for the overnight centre. During the evening around 70 people came to the church and an early morning visitor saw a few exhausted bodies sleeping in the pews and some volunteers watching over them.

The lobby of the church had been transformed into an emergency centre, stocked with masks, clean clothes, tissues, water and food. People were slumped against the wall sleeping. The television was on and volunteers welcomed visitors and gave them a willing ear and encouragement.

Others prayed quietly before going back onto the streets and parishioners have drawn up rosters to staff the centre day and night.

Members of the altar serving society, the youth organisation and other parishioners pitched in to offer solace to those in need.

On September 28, prayer services were held in churches in support of people in the streets, praying for their safety and their intentions. On the following evening, a Mass was celebrated in the cathedral, parishes around the territory were open and people were invited to come in and express their solidarity in prayer.

A long-term resident of Wanchai said that when the thunder lit up the skies over the city and the rain began to tumble, she took large plastic bags downstairs for the people in the streets and a young man sheltering under a veranda rushed off into the rain to deliver them for her.

"The quiet of the streets of Wanchai has become sacred to me," she told the Sunday Examiner. "The light is silent and sacred too. The people in black shirts have become a moving light on the cityscape to enlighten our consciousness."

On October 1, the parish held a sacred art competition called Umbrella is Light. Volunteers and visitors drew on a roll of white tracing paper and were invited to tell their story in the square. They are displayed in the foyer.

However, volunteers at Wanchai said that they had been under some pressure. Strange telephone calls were coming into the parish office asking if the church was open 24-hours a day.

One said that she had seen members of the Criminal Investigation Division outside the church observing proceedings. Nevertheless, people kept coming, and students and others continued to come for morning Mass after spending the night on the streets.

The Methodist International Church in Wanchai was also open as a refuge centre and at the other end of Central, St. Joseph's offered a place of rest. Some among the Filipino community said they had been in Manila during People Power in 1986 and understand the importance of the fight that Hong Kong is engaged in.

"We have invaluable insights and ideas to offer-the Filipino people's collective experience in the democratic struggle has taught us things that only our self can articulate. We have lived through it," Danilo Reyes said. He explained that in The Philippines the people have a vote, but the Hong Kong people have what the Filipinos do not; democracy in its substance.

In The Philippines, while people do have universal suffrage, public institutions remain undemocratic, as the people's representatives tend to oppress rather than protect the people.

Reyes added, "We have lived and experienced how democratic institutions function in Hong Kong and know how societies like The Philippines deteriorate because institutions are not democratic."

He said that he believes that unless democracy is realised in Hong Kong, the core value of the rule of law will be under threat.

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