Should the master of Beijing be afraid of Catholics? Of the nine leaders, aged 64 to 82, of the Hong Kong opposition convicted on April 16, 2021, for having challenged a series of liberty destroying measures emanating from the communist power, five are Catholics.
“They were formed in parishes, schools, and Catholic associations. It was there that they found the source of their political and social commitment, out of a spirit of fidelity to their faith and consistency in relation to their Catholic conscience,” explains Fr. Gianni Criveller, a religious member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME).
The missionary evokes - in World and Mission, the official review of the PIME - the figures of these five Catholics who stood up against the policies of Chinese President Xi Jingping.
The most famous personality is Martin Lee. This 82-year-old lawyer, a former parliamentarian, was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended: “for Catholics, he is a familiar character, who serves Mass every morning at the central church of St. Joseph. For decades he was one of the diocese’s most valued counselors,” explains Fr. Criveler.
Also endearing is the figure of Lee Cheuk-Yan, a 64-year-old parliamentarian who converted from Anglicanism. His orphan wife Elizabeth Tang was “adopted” with her two sisters by Fr. Adelio Lambertoni, originally from Velate. “Cheuk-Yan frequents the Catholic parish of his district and the house of the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP),” specifies the PIME missionary.
Fr. Criveler also mentions Cyd Ho, a 66-year-old woman, sentenced to eight months in prison for having taken part in a peaceful demonstration: “She told me one day that she had been baptized by an PIME missionary when she was a young woman.”
Jimmy Lai, 72, also a Catholic, was sentenced to 14 months in prison. Founder of Apple Daily, Hong Kong's most popular newspaper, “he converted as an adult thanks to the then bishop of Hong Kong, who later became Cardinal Joseph Zen Zekiun,” emphasized Fr. Criveler.
So, it is no coincidence that on March 1, Cardinal Zen appeared in court in Kowloon to protest the detention of his friend and the other dissidents.
The last figure of the Catholic resistance to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is Margareth Ng. This magistrate, when she received a 12-month suspended prison sentence, addressed her judges: “I have grown old in the service of the rule of law. I know that St. Thomas More is the patron saint of the legal profession. He was tried for treason because he would not bend the law to the king's will.”
Since 2019, Hong Kong has been going through the most serious crisis since its handover to China on July 1, 1997. At the end of June 2020, the political and social climate became tense with the promulgation of the controversial “national security” law.
Moving forward like a steamroller, Beijing began a new reform on March 30, 2021: henceforth, candidates for the legislative elections will have to be validated by a committee in full agreement with Chinese power. This reform of the electoral system further accentuates the prerogatives of the Chinese central power and marginalizes the role of the opposition.
At the same time, the Holy See - quite reactive when it comes to defending the Rohingyas of Myanmar - remains silent on the worrying case of Catholic dissidents in Hong Kong: a silence in relation to the provisional agreement signed with Beijing, and whose fruits it is hard to see.
An attitude that remains incomprehensible to many Chinese Catholics, according to Fr. Criveler: “As far as I know, most Catholics in Hong Kong are terribly disappointed. As they go through the greatest difficulties in their history since the Japanese invasion, the Holy See remains silent.”