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Catholic youth publish Umbrella Movement experiences

Focus of book is the relationship between protest participation and faith
Catholic youth publish Umbrella Movement experiences

A crowd gathers outside Hong Kong's main government building to commemorate the first anniversary of the Umbrella Movement on Sept. 28, 2015. (ucanews.com photo)

Published: June 14, 2016 10:37 AM GMT
Updated: June 14, 2016 10:37 AM GMT

Young Catholics in Hong Kong and Taiwan have published a book sharing their experiences as part of pro-democracy social movements, including the so-called Umbrella Movement.

"I didn't think too much at first," Esther Tam told ucanews.com. "I only want to share my experience in the Umbrella Movement as a Catholic," Tam is a laywoman in her late 20s and is the main coordinator of the new book Conviction to Open an Umbrella.

In 2014, Hong Kong protesters used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas canisters fired by police causing the world's media to dub the incident as the Umbrella Movement. The term is now used interchangeably with Occupy Central a civil disobedience protest for democracy and universal suffrage. At its peak, more than 150,000 people had taken to the streets.

Tam stayed in the occupied area for most of the 79 days the umbrella movement lasted alongside thousands of people demanding universal suffrage from the chief executive of Hong Kong.

At one point, she felt lost and asked herself, "Why am I sitting here?" Tam shared her problem with a priest who guided her by suggesting she imagine what Jesus would do.

"I thought if Jesus was at the scene, he would stay there," she said. Especially when she saw police shooting pepper spray at unarmed students."


Sunflower Student Movement

After the movement finished, Tam shared her feelings and experiences with David Chiu, a Catholic friend in Taiwan. Chiu, 35, encouraged her to share her experience and those of other Catholic youth.

Chiu, a computer programmer, was keen for Tam to publish the book because six months before the Umbrella Movement, he had experienced the Sunflower Student Movement in Taiwan.

The movement, driven by a coalition of students and civic groups, peaked on March 18 and April 10, 2014. They were angry at the passing of the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement by the ruling Kuomintang Party without a clause-by-clause review by the legislature.

"It impacted most of the Taiwanese Catholics aged 20-30 years old," Chiu told ucanews.com.

Chiu thinks the Catholic youth in Taiwan should put more effort on linking their faith and daily life, especially when it comes to politics. "Many have their viewpoints but those who use the church perspective to analyze [the] issues are [in the] minority," he said.

"The [book's] publication is a good opportunity for Chinese readers to reflect on themselves, [whether] they support the Umbrella Movement or not," he said.



The book, published in Chinese was launched by Hong Kong Diocese's youth commission on June 3.

"Social concern is one of our topics for the Catholic youth gathering." Cecile Lee, a pastoral worker of the youth commission told ucanews.com. "I think it is a good time to share this book because it is about how the Catholic youth [can get] involved in social movement with faith."

More than 30 Catholics contributed. One of the writers, Rivalino Chung participated in the movement as a volunteer offering counseling to protesters occupying the streets.

"The movement was [beyond] anyone's expectations," wrote Chung. "My confidence was shaken when facing the dark atmosphere."

But when he saw a group of young Catholics praying in the occupied area, he found peace with them. "I made a confession in the prayer zone to reconcile with God as I had lost trust in him."

Tam said her book was different to those that recorded or analyzed the Umbrella Movement. Instead she focused on the relationship between the participants and their faith.

"It is [about] how faith affects their involvement in the movement," said Tam. "It is not just a factual experience sharing but a profound reflection."

"So far all 1,000 copies of the book [have been] sold since it was published in May," said Cecile Lee of the youth commission. "It's a sign that their hard work is recognized by others," Lee said.


Struggle far from over

Freeman Leung, who attended the launch, said he hoped more young people will become politically active despite the ongoing political difficulties in Hong Kong.

"The Bible and the church's social teachings bring us hope and guidance," Leung told ucanews.com. "Giving us confidence to participate in politics and social movements… the book gives me inspiration," Leung said.  

"Before the movement, we just voted for the pro-democratic parties," he said. "But now, the young people organize their own political parties to join the District Council and the Legislative Council elections."

For Tam, the struggle is far from over. "While the situation in Hong Kong is not too good, we have to stay vigilant," Tam said. "And try to understand what is happening, link up with our faith, and look for an appropriate method to practice justices."

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