Hong Kong Catholics "enjoy religious freedom," Church leader says

.- Hong Kong is a safe haven for Catholics, according to Mgr John Tong Hon, Auxiliary Bishop of Hong Kong, in a report given on September 9 to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

"We enjoy religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of traveling," he said. Since the Chinese takeover of the territory in 1997, "there even have been improvements in visa regulations for missionaries from abroad. After 7 years in Hong Kong, they can apply for a permanent permit of residence. Before 1997, this was not the case."

Asked about the Church's missionary work in Hong Kong (which has about 6.8 million residents, some 370,000 of them Catholics), Bishop Tong stated: "I am quite optimistic. In recent years, our diocese had more than 4,000 newly baptised Catholics per year, including 2,000 adults.

Beijing's March 2005 decision to replace former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa by Donald Tsang was a very intelligent step. Tung disappointed many people, in Hong Kong as well as in Beijing. While it is too early to predict Mr Tsang's political success now, I can say that he is a good and devout Catholic. We should pray for him."

With regard to Mainland China, Mgr Tong said: "Hosting the 2008 Olympic Games may help China to become more open. However, we should not expect too much from it. I would expect a little bit more of religious tolerance. Nowadays, even many party members in China do not believe in communism any more, they rather believe in money and themselves."

Hong Kong enjoys a special status within the People’s Republic of China, since it was ceded in 1997. It still holds free democratic elections, and enjoys freedom of speech, and religious freedom.

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