About half as many Catholic churches in Hong Kong will celebrate midnight mass on Christmas Eve as did so last year, amid fears of possible protest chaos.
Organisers had already cancelled a planned anti-government march, but internet chatter suggested other night-time actions could be in the offing, and police were on alert for potential unrest.
According to the city’s Catholic diocese, only 20 churches were planning to hold midnight masses on Tuesday, compared with 38 last year. A total of 76 Catholic churches were scheduled to hold masses throughout the day.
The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mid-Levels, which held masses at 7pm, 8pm and midnight last year, was set to hold earlier sessions at 6pm and 8pm. Its priest, Reverend Dominic Chan Chi-ming, told local media earlier the arrangement was a precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the faithful in view of the unstable social situation.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than six months of political and social unrest, sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill. Peaceful protests have developed since June into violent demonstrations. Radical protesters have blocked roads, damaged MTR stations and occupied university campuses, clashing repeatedly with police.
St Joseph’s Church in Central was scheduled to maintain its midnight session this year.
Other chapels, including one at Wah Yan College in Wan Chai, moved their midnight masses forward by a few hours.
St Charles’ Chapel, part of the Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, was to hold the earliest Christmas Eve mass, at 4pm on Tuesday. Church staff said that was to allow patients to join the mass before meal time at 5.30pm, but did not say if the possibility of protests was factored into the decision.
While some churches hold midnight masses on Christmas Eve, the one at St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, traditionally attended by the Pope, starts at about 9pm.
The city’s main protestant church, St John’s Cathedral in Central, which is under Hong Kong’s Anglican church, planned to hold mass as usual at 11pm, led by Most Reverend Paul Kwong.
But Christmas mass at St Paul’s Church, also in Central, was moved to 7pm.
Protesters online had planned to march in Tsim Sha Tsui late on Christmas Eve. But the march was cancelled after police told organisers it would have to end at 10pm, rather than 1am on Christmas Day, as they had applied for.
Organisers also said protesters would have been confined to the pavement.
In a post on the online forum LIHKG, which is widely used by protesters, organisers said the march had to be cancelled to ensure public safety.
But its members said they would continue to plan protests.
“I will be organising another mass event … I will be back soon,” one organiser wrote.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Fewer Hongkongers out for last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve, with uncertainty over protests
- Hong Kong anti-government protests: leader of city’s Catholics Cardinal John Tong calls for Christmas truce
- Traditional Hong Kong New Year’s Eve fireworks cancelled over protest fears
- Hong Kong faces gloomy and uncertain economic future, say two of city’s senior officials
This article Half as many midnight masses for Hong Kong Catholics on Christmas Eve first appeared on South China Morning Post