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Hong Kong Catholic churches plan Masses commemorating Tiananmen victims

Chinese officers patrolling Tiananmen Square May 2013 China  Credit Alexandre Kuma via Flickr CC BY NC SA 20 CNA Officers patrol Tiananmen Square in Beijing, May 2013./ Alexandre Kuma via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Seven churches in Hong Kong will offer candlelight vigil Masses on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre this June.

The Diocese of Hong Kong’s Justice and Peace Commission has announced that the churches will each offer a Mass for the Dead on the night of June 4.

“For various reasons, we may not be able to speak openly, but we must not forget history,” the Catholic commission said in the May 24 announcement.

“Let us offer the life-giving holy sacrifice of the Mass that the Lord of history may look upon those who died in the spring and summer in the pursuit of truth.”

The Chinese government’s crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square culminated on June 4, 1989, when tanks rolled into Beijing’s main city square and military forces opened fire on the university students and other citizens calling for democratic reforms.

A diplomatic cable from the British ambassador to China at the time said that at least 10,000 people were killed, while the regime claimed that 241 people died and 7,000 were wounded.

In China, people have not been allowed to hold official commemorations of the “June 4th incident” in Tiananmen, but Hong Kong has long held annual vigils to commemorate its victims.

Hong Kong has enjoyed special administrative status as part of the “one country, two systems” agreement when the United Kingdom transferred control over the region to China in 1997.

Amid Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, this vigil became a flashpoint. Thousands of protesters defied police in 2020 to take part in the memorial, after police gave orders forbidding large gatherings.

Bishop Joseph Ha, an auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong, presided over a June 4 memorial vigil Mass in 2020 amid media reports that he would be passed over as a candidate for bishop of Hong Kong because of his criticism of the Chinese government.

In his homily on June 4, Ha said: “Let us pray together for our people, our compatriots, as the students and civilians of the time did, who sacrificed themselves not for their own interests, but for the future of the country, of the people.”

“They are now dead, but why did they die? How did they die? The mothers of these young people -- the Mothers of Tiananmen -- expressed their humble request: to obtain justice for the 1989 Movement; launch an investigation into the case and make the truth public, and finally, publicly ask for forgiveness from the families of the victims,” he said.

The bishop pointed out that Hong Kongers have marked many “June 4ths” over the past three decades, including the handover from Britain to China on June 4, 1997, national security law protests on June 4, 2004, the “Umbrella Movement” in 2014, and the national security law in 2020.

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Ha said that the approval of the national security law aggravated the situation in Hong Kong, adding: “Freedom of expression seems to shrink more and more. Could this be the last commemoration Mass in memory of June 4? I do not know.”

“No matter how difficult it will be in the future, we must know that we are Christians, we are children of God, that He is always with us and walks with us, He gives us strength for our missions, continuing to love God and neighbor even in adversity.”

The seven churches offering Mass at 8 p.m. on June 4 are St Bonaventure Church, St Francis of Assisi's Catholic Church, and St Andrew's Church in Hong Kong’s Kowloon District; as well as Holy Cross Church on Hong Kong Island; and Holy Redeemer Church, St Benedict Church and SS. Cosmas & Damian Catholic Church in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

The recently appointed Bishop-elect of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow Sau-yan, 周守仁, said at a press conference May 18 that whether he attends a public June 4 vigil “depends on the legal requirements.”

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“Sometimes in the past, I would go and really commemorate in the public arena, but there were times that I couldn’t go, so I prayed,” he said.

“I pray for China. I pray for all those who have passed in 1989.”

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