“It seems that now they are attacking the resistance mainly on three fronts,” said Zen.
“One is the court, they are intimidating the judges now; the second, as I said during the previous interview [with CNA], is the education; the third one is the press, many cases so far go against the free press.”
In November, three pro-democracy activists, including Catholic university student Agnes Chow, pled guilty on charges related to their roles in an “illegal assembly” in 2019. Last week, they were each sentenced to months in prison, with the possibility that they will face further charges.
Cardinal Zen told CNA that attacks on basic freedoms in Hong Kong extended beyond political repression and represented a growing threat to the Church.
“I have often said that there would not be any religious freedom when there is no freedom,” Cardinal Zen told CNA this week.
“So, with this National Security Law, the leader of our diocese has been forced to declare his position, and unfortunately we can tell that our diocese is very obedient to these new instructions on both the preaching of the priests and the teaching in our schools.”
“The authorities of our diocese make every effort to comply with the government’s new instructions,” said Zen.
In recent months, the Diocese of Hong Kong has issued directives to Catholic schools on “fostering the correct values on national identity” and respecting Chinese national symbols including the flag and national anthem. It has also blocked a Catholic pro-democracy ad campaign and prayer that was set to run in local newspapers.
In September, Cardinal Tong wrote the priests of the diocese, warning them against addressing political issues in their homilies or instigating “social disorder.”
Cardinal Zen called the measures “very sad,” adding that “we can no more freely announce the gospel values” in Hong Kong, and said that “obviously” diocesan leaders had been told to comply with the government “by Vatican authorities.”
Zen has been an outspoken critic of the Holy See’s accord with the Chinese government, first agreed in 2018 and recently renewed for another two years.
(Story continues below)
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Many of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, including Jimmy Lai and Agnes Chow, are Catholics. Zen explained to CNA that, in past decades, the Church has had a key role to play in promoting the values of human dignity and freedom in Hong Kong – a role that is now being steadily eroded.
“It is true that the many years of education work of the churches in Hong Kong helped to shape and develop people to be more conscious of the duty to choose the right and to do the right,” he told CNA.
“This is more evident on those who grew up during the 1950s to 70s, they finished their secondary school, they continued their studies in universities here in Hong Kong or overseas, they were on the frontlines especially during the years after the 1997 handover [of Hong Kong from Britain to China].”
In recent years, Zen said, the erosion of human formation independent of the state since the handover had taken a toll.
“When the students came out in the [pro-democracy] movement, I’m sorry to say that not that many Catholics could I count among them.”
“The education in Christian schools, both Catholic and Protestant, surely can cultivate and empower students with important values which can explain the courage to stand up against the attempt of the government to enslave our citizens,” Zen said.