“But in order for you to renew your license, you have to fulfill certain criteria,” he said, such as attending re-education classes. And the licenses can be revoked at any time, he said.
In mainland China, there exists an underground Catholic Church, which is persecuted and loyal to Rome. Government-approved Catholic Churches, on the other hand, have comparatively more freedom of worship, but face other challenges, including pressure from the government to censor parts of Catholic teaching, while including Chinese nationalism and love for the party in preaching.
Most underground bishops are jailed or are very old, Woo said, making the future of the underground Church uncertain.
Woo opined that CCP will likely set its sights on controlling Christian schools in Hong Kong, in an attempt to control the minds of young people.
Hong Kong’s 2020 National Security law has a clause that all students must be educated on the law, he noted. Many religious schools associated with parishes, and parishes, could be held accountable for what the school does if they do not comply with the National Security law, and parishes could be shut down as a result.
Xi’s communist government is “notorious for breaking its promises,” Woo warned, and thus any dialogue between the government and the Vatican will prove extremely difficult.
Woo also mentioned that it is encouraging to Catholics in Hong Kong that media mogul Jimmy Lai, a Catholic and billionaire who has been charged under the National Security laws, has chosen not to flee Hong Kong despite being likely to spend years in prison.
“He wants to suffer with all the protesters who are jailed in Hong Kong,” Woo said, adding that he sees Lai’s actions as “taking up his cross” like Christ.
When asked whether he is worried about what might happen to him now that he is speaking out, Woo said: “I’m the only person in my diocese who is able to do it at the moment.”
“When I answer to God, I will have to answer for why I did not speak out in April 2022 for those who are voiceless. I have no choice, I have to do it,” Woo concluded.
At the end of January, the Chinese-language newspaper Ta Kung Pao published four articles about Catholicism in Hong Kong, one of them about Hong Kong archbishop emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen.
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Zen, 90, has been a strong advocate of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement for years, and is a sharp critic of the 2018 Vatican-China deal on the appointment of bishops. Woo said Zen taught him philosophy while he was in seminary, and that Zen has inspired many young priests, like himself.
The newspaper article categorized Zen as an enemy of the CCP in the same vein as Falun Gong, a highly persecuted religious minority in China. The paper also called for Hong Kong's religious institutions to be placed under government control, AsiaNews reported.
Jonah McKeown is a staff writer and podcast producer for Catholic News Agency. He holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has worked as a writer, as a producer for public radio, and as a videographer. He is based in St. Louis.