Report says Vatican representative warned Catholic missionaries of Hong Kong crackdown

HONG KONG – A Vatican representative in Hong Kong has warned Catholic missionaries to prepare for a tougher future as China tightens its control over the former British colony, a Reuters report based on interviews said.

Reporting to the Reuters article, said Archbishop Javier Herrera-Corona, the Vatican’s unofficial representative in Hong Kong, had four meetings with 50 Catholic religious orders before ending his six-year term. years in March. He warned missionaries at these meetings, Reuters reported on July 5.

The 54-year-old Mexican Prelate left Hong Kong after being appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Congo and Gabon on February 5.

The private meetings took place over several months starting last October. During the sessions, the Vatican envoy urged mission groups to take appropriate steps to protect their missions’ property, records and funds, people familiar with the meetings told Reuters. Their identities have been kept secret due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Herrera-Corona told her colleagues that “the freedoms they had enjoyed for decades were over.”

“Change is coming, and you better be prepared,” he said. “Hong Kong is not the great Catholic beachhead it used to be.”

The Vatican official’s meetings came as a massive political crisis erupted in the semi-autonomous city amid an extreme erosion of freedoms, rights and democracy due to a brutal crackdown on pro supporters -democracy of the pro-Beijing regime in Hong Kong.

The greater degree of autonomy guaranteed to the city for 50 years after Britain’s 1997 handover under “one country, two systems” has been snubbed since Beijing imposed a draconian national security law in 2020 on the following massive anti-government protests.

Dozens of politicians and pro-democracy activists, including prominent Catholic figures like media mogul Jimmy Lai, have been arrested and imprisoned. Many have fled the city and settled in other countries, including Taiwan, to avoid arrest and abuse.

The report says that even before March, Herrera-Corona and other city envoys began moving records overseas for safekeeping in response to increased surveillance and the National Security Act, which is coming into force in June 2020.

More than half a ton of files, “transferred through the friendly diplomatic connection,” were documents relating to missionary activities in mainland China and Hong Kong, according to the report, citing unnamed missionaries and diplomats.

Missionary societies and congregations based in Hong Kong have developed the island city as a Catholic enclave on the outskirts of communist China for missionary activities in mainland China, according to the report.

According to a Hong Kong diocesan directory, some 600 priests, brothers and nuns serve in various areas of the city, including schools and hospitals. The city has about 500,000 Catholics out of a population of 7 million.

Foreign missionary groups have enjoyed unfettered freedoms in Hong Kong for decades and have worked closely with the local church in Hong Kong to carry out missionary activities such as eradicating poverty, helping humanitarian aid and the promotion of education.

These missionary societies have also maintained close ties with mainland Catholics, where the Chinese Communist Party strictly controls all forms of religious activity.

In February, when the Vatican withdrew its envoys from Hong Kong and Taiwan, media speculated that the move was the Holy See’s preparations to establish formal diplomatic relations with China, which Herrera-Corona said. then rejected.

A Hong Kong government spokesperson said the authorities are committed to respecting and protecting the human rights of all, as stipulated in the Basic Law and the National Security Law, which guarantee the fundamental rights and freedoms of city ​​residents.

During his briefing to missionary groups, Herrera-Corona, however, expressed fears that the worst is yet to come for the Catholic Church, as Chinese authorities have identified several prominent Catholics who support the pro-democracy movement and criticize the law on national security.

He was right.

In May, Hong Kong police arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, 90, a former bishop of the Hong Kong diocese, and other activists, accused of “colluding with foreign forces” for allegedly supporting pro-democracy protesters.

Following worldwide outrage, Zen was released soon after.

The Hong Kong diocese did not comment on the meetings and the archbishop’s warnings, saying no diocesan representative was present during the briefings, Reuters reported.

The spokesperson, however, noted that the national security law has so far not affected the pastoral missions of foreign missions in the city.

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