The group which included Father Franco Mella sang “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord”, nearly drowned out by the traffic. Father Mella (73), an Italian priest, who has been advocating human rights for five decades is unruffled by the attention and said, “If you can accept uncertainty, you won’t fear.”
Moments later, a woman approached the group, took video and recorded the identity numbers of several participants before leaving in a police car. “We are mentally prepared to be arrested someday,” said Winnie Wong, one of the organizers.
Hong Kong’s wide-ranging crackdown on all forms of social protest is being felt by its Churches and now its religious spaces are brought under the control of the state like in the rest of China, The Washington Post reported.
Earlier, on Wednesday, the Hong Kong national security police arrested 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen for his involvement in the humanitarian relief fund that supported the jailed activists.
Upon his arrest, the Hong Kong government said that the arrests have “absolutely nothing to do” with religion and it was only a matter of laws that were being violated.
After the pro-democracy protests began in 2019, Beijing made the national security law in 2020, which had crushed the dissent on the island territory. Hong Kong’s Churches, which used to be the space for discussing social issues, have now come under pressure.
According to 18 pastors and religious experts, Churches have been pushed into censoring themselves and also avoiding appointing the pastors which deemed to have political views, and at least one major church is restructuring itself in case the government freezes its assets, reported The Washington Post.
A study by the Hong Kong Church Renewal Movement revealed that over a third of the Churches were now adjusting the content of their preaching in light of the political situation in the city.
A pro-democracy advocate, Joshua Wong led the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement in 2014 and has said his faith strengthened his determination to fight for justice.
During the 2019 pro-democracy protests, pastors would lead their adherents in sit-ins, prayers and singing of “Hallelujah to the Lord,” imploring the government to meet protesters’ demands for accountability and universal suffrage.
The hymn became a symbol of peaceful protests and the freedom of assembly once allowed in the semiautonomous city that operated under the “one country, two systems” policy, which once gave it so much more freedom than the rest of China.
“Many people avoid the pitfalls on their own,” said the Reverend Hung Kwok-him, a pastor who left Hong Kong for Taiwan in 2021.
Five months later, after the new security law was passed, a pro-Beijing state media outlet posted a list of 20 pastors, accusing some of them of being “riot supporters.”
Afraid of being arrested, at least five outspoken pastors subsequently left for Britain and Taiwan. In April, a pastor was charged with sedition, for disrupting court proceedings and vilifying the judiciary after he commented on the ongoing trials on his YouTube channel.
Churches have always been subjected to tight control on the mainland, which many fear will be the future for Hong Kong’s religious institutions.
In late 2021, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, one of Hong Kong’s three largest Christian organizations, passed a motion in its annual general meeting to split its churches from one umbrella company into separate entities, according to The Washington Post citing the document.
The move was a way to prevent the whole organization from toppling if the government decides to freeze assets, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, in the past year issued an internal memo about qualifying only those pastors who create any problem with the government.
Hong Kong’s clergy members are now rethinking ways of carrying out their preaching to balance between speaking out on social justice issues and the safety of their churches and families, as reported by The Washington Post.
“To continue to speak the truth and call out for social justice, to tell people what the Bible teaches and how the Christ taught us, shall be the greatest challenge we endeavour in this era,” Pastor Shou King-kong, who has been running sermons with 10 people at a time since January last year said.