Catholics march to call for cooling-off period amid Hong Kong’s political unrest

Victor Ting

Hundreds of Hong Kong Catholics marched by candlelight on Thursday night to call for a break from hostilities so emotions can cool and the city can move on from the recent political crisis.

They also urged the government to heed protesters’ key demands.

Singing hymns and holding electronic candles, the religious group from four Christian organisations, including the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, marched through the busy shopping district of Central and past the bars of Lan Kwai Fong to rally at the Court of Final Appeal.

Organisers said 1,200 people joined the march.

About 1,200 people were estimated to have joined the march. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“In the last two months, the city has been in turmoil. We should have a cooling-off period and a ceasefire of at least two or three months, for both sides to sit down and come to an agreement to move society forward,” Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing told the rally.

Hong Kong has been gripped by months of street protests centring on opposition to the now-abandoned extradition bill, which would have allowed transfers of criminal suspects to jurisdictions the city has no formal arrangement with.

Ha echoed protesters’ central demands, for the bill’s full withdrawal and an inquiry into police’s handling of the unrest.

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Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has already dug in and resisted those demands, insisting “the bill is dead” and any complaints against the force are best handled through established bodies like the Independent Police Complaints Council.

The church has been among the bill’s opponents for months. Ha led a continuous prayer meeting with hundreds of followers outside the Legislative Council building after the historic June 16 march which drew an estimated 2 million people.

On June 19, a day after the city leader made her first public apology in person over her handling of the bill, Cardinal John Tong Hon, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, issued a joint statement with Dr Eric So Shing-yit, chairman of the Hong Kong Christian Council, also calling for the withdrawal and the inquiry.

Leading prayers at the rally, Ha said he was worried by the increasingly violent clashes between protesters and the police. He urged restraint on both sides.

“We pray for you, law enforcement officers, because we are one family of Hongkongers. I hope you can still maintain your professionalism under enormous stresses and strains of your work,” he said.

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He also appealed to protesters to stay peaceful, arguing “violence will only breed more violence, and hatred will only create more hatred”.

Construction worker Roman So Lok-man, 29, joined the march after work. He said he believed religion could reach across the political divide and heal the rifts in the city.

“I feel compelled to make a stand to create a better Hong Kong”, says Roman So. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“There are Catholics in both pro-government and anti-bill camp. This peaceful, non-violent march can bridge the divide, and may bring more from the Catholic community into the political discourse,” he said.

“A core part of my Catholic faith is fighting for social justice and speaking up for the truth. As a Christian, I feel compelled to make a stand to create a better Hong Kong.”

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