As the situation deteriorated in Hong Kong following police crackdown on protestors over the weekend, Cardinal John Tong Hon, the local bishop, issued “an urgent appeal” to the government there “to put the personal safety of fellow citizens as her prime concern” and “to exercise restraint in the deployment of force.”
The leader of Hong Kong’s 374,000 Catholics urged the government “to listen” to the voice of the 7.1 million inhabitants of this autonomous region on the southern coast of China, especially of the younger generation.
He did so following the worst unrest in Hong Kong since the handover from Britain to Beijing in mid-1997 that saw the government unleash riot police using teargas and truncheons against many thousands of peaceful protestors—a great many of them students—in front of the government’s headquarters.
The cardinal encouraged those “who are trying to voice out their grievances” to be “persistent in keeping calm” and expressed his conviction that “where there is a will there is a way.”
Reports say that Christians are highly represented in the Occupy Central movement that is protesting in the central financial district of Hong Kong. Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong and a strong advocate of universal suffrage, joined the protestors there and led a prayer service today.
The protests began after Beijing refused to grant the promised full universal suffrage to Hong Kong in 2017. It said it would allow elections for the city’s next leader in 2017 but insisting on a system of vetting the candidates in a manner that effectively means it will be able to control the outcome. Beijing fears giving the people of Hong Kong a free vote, knowing they could well choose candidates not to Beijing’s liking.
Beijing’s refusal to grant universal suffrage comes in the wake on an increasing number of measures in recent years that seek in various ways—some visible, others less so—to effectively reduce the zones of freedom enjoyed by people in Hong Kong and bring its inhabitants more and more under its control.
“As Christians,” the cardinal said in his appeal, “we believe that with God as its Creator, our world can always offer us hope.”
He concluded is appeal by asking all Christians “to continue praying for the reconciliation of the conflicting parties in Hong Kong, and for the peace and wellbeing of our community.”
The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students also issued a statement after the weekend unrest criticizing what they described as the police’s excessive use of violence when dispersing “unarmed students.”
During Sunday night’s clashes fears and rumors circulated in the social media claiming that the government was planning to use the People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong, where it has a garrison, just as the Beijing government did in Tiananmen Square, June 1989. But Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying denied this, saying there was no proof for such claims.
The protests continued today, and it remains to be seen what will happen on Oct. 1, which is China’s national day.