A Catholic group in Hong Kong will not be holding Masses this year to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, citing concerns that doing so could run afoul of the Beijing-imposed national security laws under which several Catholic leaders have been arrested.
The Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications Office told the Hong Kong Free Press May 24 that some staff and members of the Justice and Peace Commission of The Hong Kong Catholic Diocese had expressed concern about this year’s remembrance services, and thus the decision was made not to hold a remembrance Mass on June 4.
“Because frontline staff and some of the members of the Justice and Peace Commission of The Hong Kong Catholic Diocese are concerned about whether holding this even [sic] will be in breach of the implemented national security law, therefore [we] won’t hold a June 4th commemoration mass,” the office said.
“According to the Catholic faith, there can be different ways to commemorate those who died. Holding masses are of course one of the means, but praying for those who died in private or in small groups is very meaningful as well.”
Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Hong Kongers have, historically, largely enjoyed freedom of worship and evangelization, while in mainland China, there is a history of persecution for Christians who run afoul of the government. In mainland China, people have not been allowed to hold official commemorations of the “June 4th incident” in Tiananmen, but Hong Kong has long held annual vigils to commemorate its victims.
During the 1989 clash between protestors and Chinese troops, tanks rolled into Beijing’s main city square and military forces opened fire on university students and other citizens calling for democratic reforms. The exact number of people who died in the massacre is not certain, but could be hundreds or even thousands. A diplomatic cable from the British ambassador to China at the time said that at least 10,000 people were killed, while the regime claimed that 241 people died and 7,000 were wounded.
In 2020, Hong Kong police curtailed a vigil for the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, citing public health concerns related to COVID-19 — which would have marked the first time in 30 years that a vigil for Tiananmen had not taken place in Hong Kong.
Still, thousands of people reportedly climbed over police barriers into a park, lighting candles and observing a moment of silence for the Tiananmen victims. Elsewhere in Hong Kong, some protesters blocked streets and clashed with police, while others gathered in other parts of the city, chanting in favor of democracy.
Last year, at least seven churches in Hong Kong offered candlelight vigil Masses on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. The Diocese of Hong Kong’s Justice and Peace Commission announced that the churches will each offer a Mass for the Dead on the night of June 4.
However, 2021 marked the second year in a row that authorities forbade a public commemoration of Tiananmen in Hong Kong, ostensibly because of COVID-19 restrictions. Hong Kong police declined to tell the Free Press whether they would allow public commemorations this year.
The typical organizer of the city’s annual Tiananmen vigils, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, disbanded last September following a members’ vote, the Free Press reported. The Chinese government has not specifically said whether commemorating Tiananmen would be a violation of the security laws.
Millions of citizens of Hong Kong, including many Catholics, have in recent years participated in large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which came to a head during summer 2019.
Beijing has in recent years tightened control over the island territory and cracked down on dissent. With the July 2020 passage of “national security laws,” the Chinese government seized more power to suppress pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which it sees as a direct challenge to its power.
Several prominent Catholic figures have been arrested for apparent violations of the new security laws, which criminalize new categories of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces. Anyone convicted under the law will receive a minimum of 10 years in prison, with the possibility of a life sentence.
Those arrested include media mogul Jimmy Lai, a Catholic and billionaire who was detained last August and was sentenced in December 2021 to 13 months in prison on a charge of unlawful assembly, stemming from his participation in the annual Tiananmen Square vigil.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, was charged in court on May 24 with four other prominent democracy advocates who were trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees. The nonagenarian Zen was arrested by the authorities in Hong Kong on May 11 and was released on bail later on the same day. His trial is set to begin Sept. 19.
Father Vincent Woo, a priest of the Diocese of Hong Kong and a canon lawyer, recently said that he has observed that many Christian leaders are reluctant to speak out against the CCP’s actions, for fear of being detained, or worse, by civil authorities.