A day the people’s voice prevailed
Hong Kong celebrated the 15th anniversary of its return from British to Chinese sovereignty with a weekend of pomp and protest on June 30 and July 1.
With those choosing to join the protests vastly outnumbering the select few invited to be part of the pomp, the avowed ambition of the guest of honour for the weekend, the president of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, to walk the streets and talk with the people was replaced with huge tailor-made barracades designed to keep the simmering malcontent from soiling the presidential ears and eyes.
As the president was swearing in the new chief executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, on July 1, the actual anniversary of the 1997 handover, around 400,000 people were massing in the streets to voice their discontent over a wide range of issues.
Banners objecting to the manner of the appointment of the new chief executive; decrying the ever widening income gap in Hong Kong, now the biggest in the developed world; stagnating democratic reforms; the soaring prices of real estate and rents; gagging of media information flow and free speech; as well as violations of human rights on the mainland dominated the eye line in Victoria Park, as people assembled for a massive march through the city streets to the government offices.
Meanwhile, at the far extreme of the frigid zone of the northern Chinese city of Harbin, Catholic people were to be spared the indignity of having an illicit bishop dumped upon them by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government body which controls Catholic Church affairs on the mainland.
The people had been praying and fasting for two weeks hoping that Pope Benedict XVI would be spared another slap in the face. They began their vigil when it was announced that Father Joseph Yue Fusheng was to be ordained as their bishop on June 29, despite opposition from both themselves and Rome.
However, Church commentators noted that their victory may be short lived, as the ordination of a bishop in Shanghai, Father Thaddeus Ma Daqin, which was set for the same day, was also put off.
While both Father Ma and the 95-year-old Jesuit Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, who was set to do the ordination, both have Vatican approval, the disappearance from the scene of the former auxiliary bishop late last year is still viewed with suspicion by Catholic people in Hong Kong.
This is significant, as commentators believe that the main reason for the sudden postponement of the two ordinations was to avoid yet another ruckus being added to the string of demonstrations being planned in Hong Kong over the celebratory weekend, as Catholic people are well known for trooping to the Liaison Office of the People’s Republic to voice their disapproval over manipulation of Church affairs in China.
However, not all was quiet in China’s bishops’ houses on the feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, June 29, and there was trouble in the priests’ stables as well, as the bishop of Leshan, Father Paul Lei Shiyin, celebrated the first anniversary of his illicit ordination without papal approval by ordaining four deacons as priests.
UCA News reported that five deacons had been slated for ordination, but one pulled out, saying that he did not want to be ordained by an illicit bishop.
The Hong Kong-based news agency said that it was told that the four who did accept ordination did so after they had been offered a car plus 150,000 yuan ($189,100), as well as executive positions in the local Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Father Lei was ordained a bishop by Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao, the president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, a body described by the Vatican as being out of sync with Church teaching, without a papal mandate just 12 months ago.
He was subsequently declared by the Vatican to be in a state of self-inflicted excommunication, as officials in Rome argued he had been adequately warned of the consequences of the act and understood the situation clearly.
He was also told clearly that he is forbidden to act as a bishop, wear the episcopal insignia or administer any sacraments.
In an interview with Vatican Insider, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai, the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, called Father Lei’s actions a sacrilege.
However, the victory may be short lived, as both episcopal ordinations are expected to go ahead later in July, so a massing of Catholics around the China Liaison Office in Hong Kong may still be on the cards—but not while the president is around.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church was not silent on the handover weekend. Around 900 people gathered in Victoria Park to pray for an hour prior to joining the massive march through the streets.
“It is 15 years since the soil of Hong Kong returned to China, but the hearts of the people did not return with it,” Father Stephen Chan told the gathering.
However, the spiritual director of the Justice and Peace Commission added that in those 15 years since the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese sovereignty, China has chalked up some amazing achievements.
Father Chan pointed out that China has learned how to manipulate the weather, developed the expertise to stage an Olympic Games and put people into space, but what it has not been able to do is to win the hearts and minds of the people of Hong Kong.
As the people prayed, tens of thousands from the professional ranks of society to domestic workers filed determinedly into the giant park to begin the five kilometre trek to the government offices and voice their discontent, as well as cry out for the freedom for their motherland.
The prayer service was organised by the Justice and Peace Commission and prayers were offered for the well-being of the people of both Hong Kong and the mainland. The people prayed for justice, freedom of the media and speech, democracy and respect for each and every individual.
Father Chan said that Hong Kong people saw the handover as being a return of freedom, but sadly that freedom has not yet materialised. He called on people to pray and work for freedom, and for the recognition of the dignity of every human being.
While a cooling breeze wafting off the city’s famed Victoria Harbour did little to dry the perspiration from the bodies of those who prayed and walked, the stifling humidity and blazing sun did not deter them either.
The 15th anniversary of the handover will most probably go down in the history books of Hong Kong as a day when the people’s voice prevailed, at least for 24 hours.