Church leaders attended another huge Hong Kong protest that called for the withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill and the resignation of the Chinese territory’s leader. Although chief executive Carrie Lam announced on June 15 that she had suspended the bill, Hong Kong people were not satisfied and turned out in even greater numbers on June 16 than the one million estimated to have marched on June 9. The Civil Human Rights Front estimated that about two million people joined the latest rally — a record for a protest in Hong Kong — but police claimed only 338,000 attended. The pressure on Lam increased today when Hong Kong's most prominent student activist, Joshua Wong
, was released from prison and immediately called for the chief executive to step down. Wong, 22, who received two separate prison sentences in 2017 and 2018 for his part in the Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests
in 2014, walked free after serving a reduced sentence of one month.
"[Carrie Lam] is no longer qualified to be Hong Kong's leader,” he told reporters after his release. “She must take the blame and resign, be held accountable and step down." Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after the latest rally. Asked by media at midnight whether he would leave the young protesters, the 60-year-old bishop said: “I don’t care. No matter how long they stay, I will continue to stay with them. The shepherd should not just be with the sheep but also guide them.” Bishop Joseph Ha addresses a prayer meeting held by Catholic groups on June 16. (ucanews.com photo)
The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students (HKFCS), Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong, Diocesan Youth Commission of Hong Kong and the Justice and Peace Group of the Franciscans organized a Mass and a prayer meeting. Bishop Ha reminded the faithful that the protesters were Christians first. “Even though the government did many things that we don’t like and were very wrong, we cannot demonize them because this is not our faith request,” he said. Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the retired bishop of Hong Kong, held a Sunday Mass attended by more than 500 Catholics. In his homily, he thanked God that Hong Kong has so many brothers and sisters who care about justice. “Although we won this battle, we need to continue to use peace, love and justice to arouse society and Christ will stand by us,” he said. Edwin Chow, the acting HKFCS president, told ucanews.com that Lam had supported the use of excessive force by police in a June 12 rally
, but he hoped that religious elements could moderate the emotions of protesters and police. Protesters are concerned that the proposed bill could be used by Beijing to extradite people from Hong Kong on politically motivated or business charges. “There have been cases when Hong Kong people were charged with smuggling when they transferred Bibles to mainland China. I am afraid it will affect the communication between the churches on both sides. That’s why I am against the amendment,” Chow said. The Hong Kong government released a statement on June 16 saying that the chief executive had apologized and admitted that “deficiencies in the government's work had led to substantial controversies and disputes in society, causing disappointment and grief among the people.” However, protesters are insisting that Lam step down and the bill be withdrawn.
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