Updated: May 24, 2023 11:37 AM GMT
People take part in the 'Prayer Walk for Sinners' rally in Hong Kong on Aug. 31, 2019, defying a police ban on rallying a day after several leading activists and lawmakers were arrested in a sweeping crackdown by authorities. Across the lands ruled by China today, people are enduring the worst repression in decades and need prayers now more than at any time. (Photo: AFP)
Today, the Feast of Our Lady Help of Christians is also the annual worldwide day of prayer for China, designated as such by the late Pope Benedict XVII in 2007. And God knows, the people of China need our prayers now more than any time since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the torment and famine of Mao Zedong’s so-called “Great Leap Forward” from 1958-1962.
Across the lands ruled by the Chinese Communist Party regime under Xi Jinping today, people are enduring the worst repression in decades. China is facing its worst human rights crisis in over three decades.
In the region which Beijing calls “Xinjiang” — its indigenous population prefers to call it “East Turkestan” — the predominantly Muslim Uyghurs are facing what is increasingly recognized as genocide. Both the previous US administration and the current one recognize it as such, as do several parliaments around the world and an independent tribunal, chaired by the British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice, KC, who prosecuted Slobodan Milosevic.
Uyghurs are suffering a campaign of forced sterilization, forced abortion, forced labor and surveillance, torture, sexual violence, and religious persecution. At least a million — perhaps several million — Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic groups in the region are incarcerated in prison camps, and hundreds are loaded like cattle onto trains to be transported as slave labor throughout China.
In Hong Kong, promises of freedom, the rule of law, and a high degree of autonomy made before the city’s handover from Britain to China in 1997 have been torn up in the past decade. Press freedom, freedom of expression, association, and assembly have been almost completely dismantled, and freedom of religion or belief is showing signs of coming under ever-increasing pressure.
Hundreds of peaceful pro-democracy activists, including Catholics like media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai, are in jail, while other prominent human rights defenders, such as the city’s Cardinal Joseph Zen, have been effectively silenced through threatened prosecutions.
In the space of three years, with the imposition of a draconian National Security Law which has destroyed all remaining liberties, Hong Kong has been turned from one of Asia’s most open cities into one of its most repressive police states.
In Tibet, which too often gets forgotten, repression continues. Surveillance, torture, religious persecution, and cultural genocide have intensified in recent years. In an interview for my new book, The China Nexus: Thirty Years In and Around the Chinese Communist Party’s Tyranny, Tibetan exiled activist, Wangden Kyab, describes Tibet as “a prison” in which “your movements are monitored, your thoughts corrected, and your rights confiscated, snatched, crushed.”
Children are separated from their families and forced into colonial boarding schools, where they are indoctrinated into abandoning their Tibetan language, culture and identity, and their Buddhist religion, and forced to adopt a loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. It is a program known as “Sinicisation” and it is being rolled out by the regime across all the territories under its control.
But as we pray for China, our prayers should not only be for the peripheries – for the Uyghurs, Hong Kong, and Tibet. Our prayers should also be for the center, for mainland China, the “Middle Kingdom.” For the lawyers, dissidents, citizen journalists, bloggers, and civil society activists across China who have been detained, or worse — disappeared. For the brave people who protested against the draconian Covid-19 lockdowns. For the extraordinary citizen journalist Zhang Zhan and others like her.
And our prayers should be for those persecuted for their faith in China today. In addition to Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, we must remember Falun Gong practitioners who have endured sustained and severe persecution, including the barbaric crime against humanity of forced organ harvesting, as found by the independent China Tribunal in 2019. And for our brothers and sisters in Christ, our fellow Christians of all traditions — Catholic and Protestant — who endure the worst religious persecution since the Cultural Revolution.
Over the past decade, thousands of crosses have been torn down, churches have been dynamited, and portraits of Xi Jinping and other Chinese regime leaders have been put up alongside, or sometimes in place of, religious imagery.
The regime is carrying out plans for a new translation of the Bible, which will reinterpret it in accordance with Xi Jinping's ‘Thought.’ Surveillance cameras are installed at the altar, recording everyone who attends worship — and young people under the age of 18 are prohibited from coming to worship. The regime has not yet succeeded in its goal of eliminating religion, but it is tightening the noose of restrictions on religious practice every day.
Two years ago, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of Asia’s most senior clerics, the President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC) and Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Bo issued an appeal to the worldwide Church, to extend the day of prayer for China which Pope Benedict XVI established in 2007 into a full week of prayer.
A group of Catholic lay people — legislators from around the world, together with prominent activists — took up Cardinal Bo’s plea, and for the past two years, we have marked this week as a global week of prayer for China, and specifically for the victims and survivors of the Chinese Communist Party regime.
This year we do so again, for the third time, exercising our conscience, spirit, right, and freedom to defend those who cannot speak for themselves, whose human dignity, human rights, and freedom of religion or belief are so systematically, comprehensively, and appallingly disrespected.
In writing this article and continuing to advocate this cause — and this Global Week of Prayer — I am conscious that I am, not for the first time, at odds with the Vatican’s policy on China about which my views are well documented in many articles which you only have to Google. But even if the men in the Vatican who appear to have sold out to and decided to kowtow to Beijing and I disagree on policy and approach, surely we can’t disagree about prayer?
Even if I think that the only place to genuflect is at the altar, while some in the Vatican think it is appropriate to kowtow at the gates of Zhongnanhai, we can still meet with our hands extended in prayer for the people of China.
In memory of Pope Benedict XVI, and in hope for a better future for the people — and the Church — in China, let us resolve to devote this week, and especially this day, to praying for China.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.