Hong Kong's new Catholic leader urges China forward on freedom issues

By staff writers
April 17, 2009

Following China's recently-released Human Rights Action Plan, the new head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong has called for further action on civil rights across the nation of 1.3 billion people.

Bishop John Tong says that he wants to see genuine development of religious freedom in China at the earliest opportunity.

At present the Catholic Church there is divided in two, with the Patriotic Catholic Association recognised by the government but having no direct Vatican links, and unregistered Catholic communities, loyal to the Pope but illegal in the eyes of the state - which says that it cannot have religious groups in its midst committed to another government (the Vatican is a city state).

However, in an attempt at conciliation with the authorities, Bishop Tong declared that, unlike his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Zen, he would not join the annual 4 June vigil to commemorate those killed after pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

Speaking at a press conference, Tong said: "We will spare no effort in our role as a bridge Church to the Church in our motherland; to promote unity among the different groups of the Catholic Church in the mainland and to see them enjoy full religious freedom as early as possible, so that they can make greater contributions to society."

He added that he would speak out about questions of relations with government "in the case of clear and gross injustice".

The bishop said it was right for Catholics to participate in legitimate politics and nation building, but that clergy should not be "captivated by political ideologies and parties".

The priority, he suggested, was pastoral duty and the development of the life and witness of the church itself.

Hong Kong has over 240,000 Catholics. It enjoys certain religious freedoms not permitted on the mainland, say observers.

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