Pro-democracy activists, many of them Catholics, have been sentenced to prison for breaking a National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong last year by the mainland Chinese Communist Party that outlaws free speech and political opposition to the Communist government. One of those sentenced is Jimmy Lai, a devout Catholic and founder of media outlet Apple Daily, the only outspoken pro-democracy media outlet left in Hong Kong. Judge Amanda Woodcock sentenced Lai to a four months in jail for attending a prayer vigil in 2019, plus another year for Lai’s making public statements that the government said invited foreign influence into Hong Kong affairs.
A Catholic priest of the Diocese of Hong Kong, who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation under the National Security Law, said, “The crackdown on free speech is public and meant as an example. Jimmy Lai [being sentenced] is a very clear message: he is pro-free speech, pro-democracy, and visibly Catholic, and he’s a warning to all those groups.”
Hong Kong has experienced significant crackdowns on individual liberties from the Chinese Communist Party government on the mainland since widespread demonstrations in 2019 sparked by an attempt by the CCP to impose a law that would allow political opponents in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China for trial. Demonstrations were so large and debilitating to the daily life of Hong Kong that the law was retracted, but that has not stopped the CCP from becoming more aggressive in their anti-democratic suppression.
Even still, not all in Hong Kong are supporters of the pro-democracy activists. The priest cited above explained, “You have to understand, Hong Kong is not ‘one thing,’ including Catholics here. Many are very pro-democracy, pro-freedom in that sense, especially the young. But many others, the older generation especially, are proudly Chinese and are very happy to support the mainland government in principle. In the middle are many Hong Kongers, and many Hong Kong Catholics, who are simply afraid of the situation; they see the tensions mounting and worry they will be caught between the hammer and the anvil.”
Hong Kong has been without a bishop since the death of Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung in 2019. At that time, Cardinal John Tong Hong, Yeung’s predecessor, took over temporary charge. Hong has warned priests not to be political in their homilies, but to focus instead on “God’s message.” He has also directed Catholic schools not to become political. The Vatican has had difficulty naming a new bishop because of the political situation. One candidate was rejected as being too closely tied to the pro-democracy protesters and another candidate rejected for being too aligned with the mainland government. A third candidate has reportedly been selected, but the announcement is being held up, again, because of the political situation.
Pray for the people of Hong Kong. Pray for the Catholics of Hong Kong. Pray for the pro-democracy movement, that it will be successful. Pray that the international community, too often too accommodating to the CCP, will have the integrity to stand up to China’s abuses. Pray that the Vatican will have the backbone to support the Catholics of China.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.