The church in China will not adopt “a mentality of colonialism,” even though it has made such mistakes historically, Hong Kong’s Catholic bishop Stephen Chow said during Wednesday’s annual mass for the church in China.

For a second consecutive year, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong announced on May 10 that it will not hold any mass commemorating the Tiananmen crackdown – it had previously been an annual tradition since 1989.

Catholic clerics attend mass at the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong on May 24, 2023. Photo: Peter Parks.

“The Diocese will not organise any memorial mass for June 4, as per last year. The mass for the church in China on May 24 was related to our search for memories and hope,” the Diocese told HKFP on Thursday.

At Thursday’s event, the bishop made no mention of the crackdown.

The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

Best interests of the country

The bishop gave sermons in Chinese and English during Wednesday’s mass.

“The fate of the church in China is inseparable from that of the country, as all the people of the church are also Chinese,” he said in Chinese. He added that, despite different struggles, the church still managed to grow and develop in the mainland.

Chow also prayed for mutual trust between Beijing and Vatican City, which have have no formal diplomatic relationship since 1951. The bishop said he hoped both sides could put aside presumptions, hypotheticals and prejudice, as well as enhance mutual understanding and trust with empathy.

Catholic mass for the Church in China
The Hong Kong Catholic mass for the Church in China on May 24, 2023. Photo: The Catholic Way.

The sermon in English version had a different focus with Chow mainly talking about missionaries in China before praying for unity within the church as it contributes “to the welfare and best interests of the country.”

Chow paid a five-day visit to Beijing between May 17 and 21 at the invitation of Beijing’s archbishop Li Shan. The visit marks the first time a Hong Kong bishop visited mainland China since the Handover of Hong Kong in 1997.

Last month, Chow claimed that ” [l]ove for our country is part of the Catholic church’s teachings,” in an article published by the Sunday Examiner, a publication run by the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese.

Last memorial mass in 2021

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, also attended the mass on Wednesday.

Zen had hosted the memorial mass for the Tiananmen crackdown on June 4, 2021, when the the Diocese held seven “masses for the dead.”

The cardinal said at the time: “We offer this memorial Mass to commemorate our brothers and sisters who sacrificed their lives for our democracy and freedom 32 years ago on Tiananmen Square and in the nearby streets… they demanded a clean and honest government and strived for a truly strong nation. Unfortunately, they had to leave this world being labelled as rioters.”

June 4 Tiananmen Square Massacre Victoria Park 2021 league of social democrats police warning
League of Social Democrats’ Tsang Kin-shing near a street booth commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre on June 4, 2021. Photo: Jimmy Lam/HKFP.

In 2021, when the traditional candlelight vigil was banned by police citing Covid-19 restrictions, churches were the only venue for commemoration.

Zen was arrested alongside four democracy advocates last May for alleged “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces,” the diocese announced. It added that it would not hold a memorial Tiananmen mass that year, as some frontline workers were concerned it may violate the national security law.

The justice chief refused to say this week whether such acts of mourning are illegal.

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