Hong Kong celebrated the 15th anniversary of its return from British to Chinese sovereignty with a weekend of pomp and protest on June 30 and July 1.
As the president of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, was swearing in the new chief executive of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, on July 1, around 400,000 people were massing in the streets to voice their discontent over a wide range of issues.
Meanwhile, at the far extreme of the frigid zone of the northern Chinese city of Harbin, Catholic people were to be spared the indignity of having an illicit bishop dumped upon them by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government body which controls Catholic Church affairs on the mainland.
The people had been praying and fasting for two weeks hoping that Pope Benedict XVI would be spared another slap in the face. They began their vigil when it was announced that Father Joseph Yue Fusheng was to be ordained as their bishop on June 29, despite opposition from both themselves and Rome.
However, Church commentators noted that their victory may be short lived, as the ordination of a bishop in Shanghai, Father Thaddeus Ma Daqin, which was set for the same day, was also put off.
While both Father Ma and the 95-year-old Jesuit Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, who was set to do the ordination, both have Vatican approval, the disappearance from the scene of the former auxiliary bishop late last year is still viewed with suspicion by Catholic people in Hong Kong.
This is significant, as commentators believe that the main reason for the sudden postponement of the two ordinations was to avoid yet another ruckus being added to the string of demonstrations being planned in Hong Kong over the celebratory weekend.
Nevertheless, the Catholic Church was not silent on the handover weekend. Around 900 people gathered in Victoria Park to pray for an hour prior to joining the massive march through the streets.
“It is 15 years since the soil of Hong Kong returned to China, but the hearts of the people did not return with it,” Father Stephen Chan told the gathering.
As the people prayed, tens of thousands from the professional ranks of society to domestic workers filed determinedly into the giant park to begin the five kilometre trek to the government offices and voice their discontent, as well as cry out for the freedom for their motherland.
The prayer service was organized by the Justice and Peace Commission and prayers were offered for the well-being of the people of both Hong Kong and the mainland. The people prayed for justice, freedom of the media and speech, democracy and respect for each and every individual.
Father Chan said that Hong Kong people saw the handover as being a return of freedom, but sadly that freedom has not yet materialized. He called on people to pray and work for freedom, and for the recognition of the dignity of every human being.
While a cooling breeze wafting off the city’s famed Victoria Harbour did little to dry the perspiration from the bodies of those who prayed and walked, the stifling humidity and blazing sun did not deter them either.
The 15th anniversary of the handover will most probably go down in the history books of Hong Kong as a day when the people’s voice prevailed, at least for 24 hours.