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On protest anniversary, Hong Kong cardinals stress dialogue, solidarity

Catholics concelebrate Mass at key umbrella movement protest site
On protest anniversary, Hong Kong cardinals stress dialogue, solidarity

A group of lay Catholics attend an outdoor Mass outside Hong Kong's government headquarters to commemorate the first anniversary of the umbrella movement on Sept. 28. (Photo by ucanews.com reporter)

Published: September 29, 2015 10:10 AM GMT
Updated: September 29, 2015 12:16 AM GMT

Catholics in Hong Kong have joined hundreds of other residents to mark the anniversary of the pro-democracy umbrella movement, with a reminder to be united and to support those arrested in the widespread protests.

During an evening prayer service held Sept. 28 outside the Legislative Council building, retired Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong told about 100 people in attendance that the umbrella movement was not a failure.

"The basis for fighting [for] universal suffrage is not to be slaves," he said at the gathering, which was hosted by the diocesan justice and peace commission. "The central government promised to give it to us. If we give up when we cannot get it, we are surrendering ourselves to be slaves."

In late 2014, the outspoken former prelate joined Hong Kong's occupy movement, which started as a student protest but expanded to include an estimated 150,000 demonstrators at its peak. The monthslong protest ended in December when its most prominent organizers surrendered to police.

During the Sept. 28 service, Cardinal Zen admitted that "there were insufficiencies in the victory," because of disunity. He encouraged participants to remain united, as "solidarity is strength."

Earlier, the retired bishop joined 150 other Catholics in an outdoor Mass concelebrated outside government headquarters — the epicenter of the street demonstrations.

It was hosted by the Yellow Umbrella Christian Base Communities, a lay Catholic group which has held outdoor Masses every Sunday afternoon since the movement began.

"Besides the regular Mass, we now also go to courts and prisons to support those who were arrested for the movement," Winnie Wong, convener of the group, told ucanews.com.

While he chose not to officially join the occupy movement or any of the 2014 protests, Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong held positive views of the democratic movement a year later.

"That means Hong Kong is a free society," the cardinal told ucanews.com in an August interview. "At least there is a good point, that is, Hong Kong still tolerates such kinds of things happening.

The cardinal issued statements and pastoral letters during the protest period, calling for restraint and dialogue from both sides.

Dialogue remains crucial today, he said.

"Dialogue does not mean that we nowadays follow the [issues] of the people and don't talk about political things," he said. "We still have to talk about it because this is part of our life."

Media around the world dubbed the occupy protests as the umbrella movement after police used tear gas against protesters on Sept. 28, 2014. Some of the demonstrators had attempted to shield themselves with yellow umbrellas.

On Sept. 28, about 1,000 people gathered near the government headquarters to commemorate the movement's anniversary. The crowd stood in silence for 15 minutes, with many holding yellow umbrellas as a symbolic reminder.

Benny Tai, one of the protest's organizers, told the crowd that the movement was only the starting point in Hong Kong's pursuit of democracy.

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