Union of Catholic Asian News News Archive Bishop Tong to attend Beijing national day celebrations

HONG KONG Bishop Tong to attend Beijing national day celebrations

On 2009-9-30

HONG KONG (UCAN) -- Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, who has been invited to the Chinese national day celebrations in Beijing, has reiterated his call for the release of imprisoned clergy in the country.

He made a similar plea in August 2008, after he was invited to the Olympic Games' opening in Beijing, in an article he wrote for "L'Osservatore Romano," the Vatican newspaper. In it, he called for greater religious freedom and release of imprisoned clergy on the mainland.

Speaking to UCA News recently, the 70-year-old bishop said he hopes the Chinese authorities would start to trust the Church and religion in general.

Just as in the past, he called for greater religious freedom and released of the jailed clergy, and said he hopes the Chinese authorities could do more to close the rich-poor gap in the country.

He joined 200 dignitaries from Hong Kong who have arrived in Beijing to attend the 60th National Day of the People's Republic of China (PRC) celebrations from Sept. 30-Oct. 2.

It is the second time Bishop Tong has attended China's national day celebration in Beijing. In 2004, while an auxiliary bishop, he and two priests from Hong Kong diocese were invited to the PRC's 55th anniversary celebration.

Other Hong Kong Church leaders attending the celebration are Vicar General Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, Fathers Edward Khong Kin-cheung and Edward Chau King-fun, both from the Diocesan Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, and Father John Baptist Tsang Hin-man, Beijing's former Hong Kong Affairs Advisor.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher of Hong Kong diocese's Holy Spirit Study Centre, told UCA News that China has again expressed "goodwill" to the Catholic Church, as it had at the time of the Beijing Olympics last year.

However, he said, the choice of Catholic delegates seemed "regressive." He added that the Chinese government should have included nuns and laypeople to "broaden the delegates' representativeness, as such visits carry symbolic significance."

Bishop Tong, speaking to UCA News, recalled his primary school days in Guangzhou, southern China, 60 years ago when the PRC was founded. He said he was chosen to be on the school team to perform yangge folk dances in school and street processions to celebrate the occasion.

The bishop's family had moved from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and Macau and later back to Hong Kong.

"Sixty years ago, I was a participant at the national day galas, and today I'm a guest invited to the celebration in Beijing," the prelate said.

He said he would not try to meet Beijing Church leaders on this visit. In August 2008 when he visited Beijing, Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing reportedly said it was "not convenient" to receive Bishop Tong during the games.

Bishop Tong said he believes this time the local Church leaders might be busy and security heightened. The prelate also said he had informed the Vatican of his Beijing visit.

On Sept. 22, the religious community in Hong Kong hosted a national day celebration which drew about 30 Catholics and 500 members of other religions. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, a Catholic, and Chinese officials attended.

Buddhist, Confucian, Muslim, Protestant and Taoist leaders gave speeches and reviewed China's history over the past 60 years, as well as that of Hong Kong since the end of British colonial rule in 1997.

Anglican Bishop Thomas Soo Yee-po, chairperson of the organizing committee, told participants that China has experienced many changes over the past 60 years. He added that many would recognize the nation's advancements which stand in stark contrast to the extreme poverty it experienced before independence.

However, Father Chan, speaking to UCA News, said that though China's economy has progressed rapidly, more progress needs to be made in terms of religious freedom and democracy. Hong Kong diocese is praying for "wisdom and love" for Chinese people to build a better country, and for the promotion of justice and freedom, he said.

Other prominent Catholics also shared their hopes with UCA News.

Teresa Yiu Sau-hing, president of the Hong Kong Central Council of Catholic Laity, said she hopes to see reconciliation between the "open" and "underground" Church communities in mainland China, as well as the normalization of China-Vatican relations soon.

Father Chau, the Catholic delegate on the secretariat of the Colloquium of Six Religious Leaders of Hong Kong, said he hopes that the mainland would be able to keep religion and state separate and observe religious freedom fully.

William Yip Kam-yuen, chairperson of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Schools Council, told UCA News that the celebrations should motivate local students to know more about the country's history and learn how to be responsible citizens.