Young Catholics are making their presence felt in Hong Kong’s rolling tide of protests demanding permanent scrapping of legal changes that would allow extraditions
to mainland Communist China. While Hong Kong was returned from British rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997
, it is supposed to have a large measure of independent administration under previously agreed 'one country, two systems’ arrangements. Proposed changes to regulations related to the highly sensitive issue of extradition prompted massive demonstrations which were joined by young people who feared they could eventually end up in mainland Chinese prisons. Pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam
suspended passage of the changes in the face of mass demonstrations and sit-ins, but demonstrators want the proposals to be permanently and irrevocably jettisoned. Various churches and Christian organizations are helping to maintain pressure on Lam's administration as well as on the national government in Beijing.
And perhaps most prominent among them is the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students (HKFCS), which was formed in the 1960s. Edwin Chow, the acting president of the HKFCS, told ucanews in an interview that he believes the current political involvement is having a positive impact on public perceptions of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong. The Church needed to be "down to the earth" in seeking justice for ordinary people, he added. Chow is 19-years-old, was born into a Catholic family and is pursuing a university degree in Government and International Studies. He was politically influenced by young Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, who in 2012 fought against Beijing interference in the education system, as well as by the so-called 'Umbrella Movement' of 2014 seeking genuine democracy. As well as mass anti-extradition rallies in June, Chow noted that more than 160,000 students, teachers, and alumni from 200 secondary schools signed a petition against the so-called Fugitive Offenders Ordinance amendment bill. "Many young people fear that the amendment will violate our freedom," Chow said. "They believe that if we do not act right now, we will never have a chance again. They want to protect their home.” Chow takes the view that young people generally have a responsibility to work for a better society and that this could also be done from a "Church perspective". And studying at university often made people more eager to campaign for democratic freedoms, he added. The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students got involved at an early stage over the extradition controversy and by mid-May it was already distributing leaflets demanding that the bid be scrapped. Since then, the banner of the HKFCS has loomed large at protests marches, rallies and prayer services. Chow welcomed the fact that a special Sunday Mass was conducted by retired Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong
, noting that having a religious element helps keep protests peaceful. A side benefit is that "religious" activities do not require prior police approval stipulated for political events and rallies. Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong
became the most powerful religious figure during the protest movement in June by directly speaking at mass gatherings. Chow said Bishop Ha came across to many young people as a guiding shepherd and an advocate of peaceful dissent. The Catholic student leader said that regular protests will continue until the extradition bill is permanently dumped. "I think people learnt from the Umbrella Movement that long term occupation of main roads will lose support of the ordinary citizen, so this time we changed our strategy to protest every week," Chow said. And now the HKFCS is planning to take the anti-extradition movement to a grass roots, parish level to win over more lay Catholics.
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