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International Youth Forum meets to continue work of Synod

Vatican City, Jun 18, 2019 / 07:45 am (CNA).- Nearly 250 young adults will meet in Rome this week for the International Youth Forum to discuss how best to implement ideas from the 2018 Synod of Bishops in their home dioceses.

Citing Pope Francis’ urging in Christus Vivit that “young people themselves are agents of youth ministry,” the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life invited young adults from 109 countries to participate in the forum June 19-22.

Isabella McCafferty was selected by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference to participate in the International Youth Forum this week. She called Christus Vivit “a constant source of encouragement in my own faith journey and inspired me in my ministry.”

“The challenge of course now is how to enable its richness to reach those who need to hear the heart of the document,” McCafferty said June 18.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who is chairman of the U.S. bishops’ conference Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, said he was “grateful” that Pope Francis was continuing the conversations begun at the synod last year and that the forum in Rome was part of an “important dialogue.”

Brian Rhude and Brenda Noriega are two of the young adult leaders who have been asked to represent the United State at the forum.  

Rhude, a student of Theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., studied at the Catholic University campus in Rome during the Fall 2018 semester, which coincided with the Synod on Young People. He attended the synod as a media correspondent for the university’s Catholic Apostolate Center.

Noriega is the current coordinator of young adult ministry in the Diocese of San Bernardino, Ca, and also serves on the USCCB’s National Advisory Team on Young Adult Ministry.

Last year, Noriega was co-leader of the bishop and young adult encounter at the V Encuentro national event held in Texas.

All the “youth delegates,” who are between the ages of 18 to 29, will listen to talks and panels on synodality, pastoral ministry, and vocational discernment. They will also meet in groups to consider how to apply the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit to their local youth ministries.

Pope Francis published Christus Vivit, a 50-page letter to “all Christian young people,” April 2 following the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment which took place Oct. 3-28.

In Christus Vivit Pope Francis addressed the obstacles to faith and personal fulfulment faced by young people today, such as isolation, over-consumption of media, and addiction to drugs and pornography. Do not let the world “rob you of hope and joy, or drug you into becoming a slave to their interests,” Francis said.

“You need to realize one basic truth: being young is not only about pursuing fleeting pleasures and superficial achievements. If the years of your youth are to serve their purpose in life, they must be a time of generous commitment, whole-hearted dedication, and sacrifices that are difficult but ultimately fruitful.”

On the final day of the International Youth Forum, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica with the young participants, after which they will meet Pope Francis.

“I think Pope Francis offers a very personal invitation to young people to return to what is most essential: an encounter daily with the love of God and the living person of Christ," McCafferty said.

Supreme Court gives second chance to Oregon cake bakers who declined same-sex wedding

Portland, Ore., Jun 18, 2019 / 12:20 am (CNA).- An Oregon bakery whose owners declined to make a cake celebrating a same-sex commitment ceremony will get another chance in court, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 17 ruling ordered lower courts to reconsider a massive fine and other penalties in light of a similar Colorado case.

“The Constitution protects speech, popular or not, from condemnation by the government,” Kelly Shackelford, president, CEO and chief counsel of the legal group First Liberty, said June 17. “The message from the court is clear, government hostility toward religious Americans will not be tolerated.”

“This is a victory for Aaron and Melissa Klein and for religious liberty for all Americans,” added Shackleford.

The Kleins, who are practicing Christians, owned Sweet Cakes by Melissa, a bakery in the Portland suburb of Gresham, Ore. In January 2013, the couple declined to bake a cake for a same-sex commitment ceremony, citing their religious views. They then lost an effort to fight a lawsuit charging they had illegally discriminated.

First Liberty, a non-profit legal firm based in Plano, Texas, focuses on religious freedom cases with a nationwide scope. It is representing the Kleins as are two attorneys from its network: C. Boyden Gray, former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union; and Adam Gustafson, both of Boyden Gray & Associates.

Boyden Gray said the Supreme Court should decide whether its 2015 ruling that mandated legal recognition of same-sex marriage “can be wielded as a shield in defense of same-sex unions but also — as in this case — a sword to attack others for adhering to traditional religious beliefs about marriage,” NBC News reports.

The women who had attempted to commission the cake from the Klein’s bakery filed a complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, claiming discrimination based on sexual orientation. The mother of Rachel Cryer, the woman who tried to order the cake, had asked Aaron Klein to reconsider, but he declined.

While the legal complaint was pending, Aaron Klein posted the first page of the couple’s complaint, which contained their names and contact information, on the Sweet Cakes by Melissa Facebook page. The women said they received death threats as a result of the posting, which was taken down after one day.

The State of Oregon in its filing with the Supreme Court had argued that the lower courts had ruled correctly. “Baking is conduct, not speech,” its filing said. “A bakery open to the public has no right to discriminate against customers on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

Requiring equal treatment for customers regardless of sexual orientation does not compel support for same-sex marriage “any more than the law compels support for religion by requiring equal treatment for all faiths,” said the state filings, according to NBC News.

Sweet Cakes by Melissa closed in September 2013, a decision that the owners described as a “devastating loss.”

In April 2015, the Oregon labor bureau ordered the Kleins to pay damages to the plaintiffs, ruling that by declining to design and make the cake, they had violated Oregon law barring discrimination in public accommodations. The labor bureau ordered them to pay a $135,000 penalty for emotional damages and issued a gag order that prevented them from “even talking about their beliefs,” First Liberty said June 17.

The Kleins initially attempted to raise the cost of the fine on the crowdfunding website GoFundMe, but their effort was taken down by the site, which cited a violation of their terms of service.

In their appeals, the Kleins claimed that their First Amendment right to free speech was violated by the state’s decision.

Their prior appeal to the Oregon Supreme Court was rejected in June 2018. This left in place the decision of the Oregon Court of Appeals, which rejected claims that a cake is a work of art. That court said “even when custom-designed for a ceremonial occasion, they are still cakes made to be eaten.” Those who attend a wedding might consider the cake to be an expression of the views of the couple who undergo the ceremony, not the views of the baker, the court said.

That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips, owner of the bakery Masterpiece Cakeshop, who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The court found that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not respected Phillips’ sincerely-held religious beliefs when it ordered him to make a custom cake for a same-sex couple.

There are 21 states that bar discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, among other categories.

Similar laws and regulations have affected wedding industry professionals in other states, including bakers and photographers. Such laws and regulations have also closed or stripped funding from Catholic and other Christian adoption agencies that decline to place children with same-sex couples.

The proposed federal Equality Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in May, would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal law and strip defendants’ ability to appeal to religious freedom as a defense against discrimination claims.

The Masterpiece Cakeshop itself has faced two more lawsuits. It refused to bake a cake to a transgender person seeking a “gender transition cake,” with the lawsuit thrown out of court. A second lawsuit later came from the same person seeking to make a similar cake, but then added it was a birthday cake with special status for the individual as a self-identified transgender woman.

Wealthy philanthropic foundations have spent close to $10 million in targeted grants seeking to limit religious freedom protections on issues such as abortion access and compliance with LGBT concerns. About $500,000 of that went to advocacy and public relations campaigns related to the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Case, CNA has reported.

 

First Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:1-9

1 We want you to know, brethren, about the grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedo'nia,
2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of liberality on their part.
3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will,
4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints --
5 and this, not as we expected, but first they gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
6 Accordingly we have urged Titus that as he had already made a beginning, he should also complete among you this gracious work.
7 Now as you excel in everything -- in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in your love for us -- see that you excel in this gracious work also.
8 I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 146:2, 5-9

1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
4 When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish.
5 Happy is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,
6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

Gospel: Matthew 5:43-48

43 "You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'
44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?
48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

St. Osanna Andreasi

St. Osanna was a Dominican tertiary, who spent her adult life serving the poor and the sick and offering spiritual direction to many. However, she was also a mystic and a visionary, eventually bearing the pain and red marks of the stigmata, though not the bleeding.She was born in 1449 to a noble Italian family. Her visions, first of angels and of the Trinity, began at the young age of five. She felt a call to religious life and became a tertiary at 17, having already rejected a marriage arranged by her father.Her visions continued into her adult life, and she often fell into ecstasies. She was also a strong critic of the lack of morality of her day. She died in 1505.

Analysis: How will the USCCB vote in first elections since McCarrick scandal?

Washington D.C., Jun 17, 2019 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- While the spring meeting of the U.S. bishops’ conference has only just concluded, some bishops are already looking to the election of new conference officers at their November meeting. While the elections are still five months away, bishops are already discussing their options - particularly in light of the scandal the Church in the U.S. has faced in the last year.

It is widely expected that Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the bishops’ conference vice president, will be elected to succeed Cardinal Daniel DiNardo as conference president. Gomez has several factors working in his favor. Most notably is the sheer force of custom: With only one recent exception, the conference vice president has been elected president as a matter of course. That Gomez has served in the second slot for the last three years is likely sufficient by itself for him to secure the votes of most bishops.

Within the conference, Gomez is perceived to cut across traditional ideological and social lines. He was ordained a priest of Opus Dei, and he has a long history of leadership on pro-life and marriage issues. But, an immigrant himself, he is also among the most outspoken advocates for the conference’s call for just immigration reform and advocacy for the poor. He is, in short, difficult to pigeonhole into a partisan camp, and at a time when the Church is increasingly segmented by politics, many bishops see that as an important advantage.

Some bishops have also mentioned to CNA the symbolic significance of electing a Hispanic archbishop, a Mexican-American immigrant, in advance of the 2020 U.S. presidential election. While the bishops have a working relationship with the Trump administration on issues pertaining to abortion, marriage, and religious liberty, they remain strongly opposed to the president’s immigration policies, and if Trump wins a second term, they will likely be at odds with him over that issue throughout. Gomez is seen to be the right voice to lead advocacy on behalf of their immigration agenda.

If a Democrat wins the presidency in 2020, Gomez’ well-known advocacy on immigration could make it easier for him to gain a hearing from a Democratic administration, especially during the battles over religious liberty on gender and sexuality that would be sure to come.

Because Gomez, who leads the largest U.S. diocese, has not been made a cardinal, it is sometimes speculated that he might have a difficult working relationship with Pope Francis, or that the Holy Father might consider him to be too conservative.

This speculation seems to be grounded in particularly American misunderstandings of both men: caricatures of Gomez as a doctrinaire conservative and Francis as a freewheeling progressive work only if the frame of reference is the U.S. left-right divide. Those with experience in Latin and South America are far more likely to see the common threads running through the thought of both: especially a common concern for solidarity with the powerless and the marginalized, including both the unborn and the immigrant.

Ultimately, that Gomez is not yet a cardinal could reflect more about the hermeneutics of the Congregation for Bishops than about any actual division between Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Los Angeles.

Whatever the reason that Gomez is not a cardinal, the archbishop is not perceived to be ineffective in engagement with Rome. Gomez is seen to have successfully manned the point position in negotiating with the Holy See an approach to establishing sexual abuse policies that would be acceptable in both Rome and the U.S. The archbishop became an especially active figure in deliberations after the breakdown in communications that led to the cancelled votes at the bishops’ November meetings.

He does not seem most comfortable at a podium, presiding over the full assembly of bishops, though his aptitude in that role has grown over the course of recent meetings. While DiNardo leads the room with a poise that seems at once fraternal and efficient, Gomez is more reserved in a large public setting. But if this is seen as a liability by some bishops, it is unlikely to overcome both the archbishop’s personal reputation and the force of precedent.

Of course, in recent history, custom has been overcome in conference elections. In 2010, Cardinal Timothy Dolan was unexpectedly elected conference president ahead of Bishop Gerald Kicanas, who was then vice president. Dolan was elected through the work of a cadre of bishops who thought a Kicanas presidency would be out of step with the leadership and emphases of Pope Benedict XVI.

It is possible that Gomez could face a credible and organized opponent in November 2019. Most frequently discussed at the conference, and mentioned to CNA by a few bishops, is the idea that the newly-installed Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC, could challenge Gomez for the presidency.

As it stands, though, electing Gregory seems a very remote possibility. In the first place is, again, the sheer force of custom. For Gregory’s supporters to overcome that force would require a great deal of organization, and a good amount of time spent convincing bishops to make a change.

Making their task especially difficult is that Gregory was conference president from 2001 to 2004, and presided over the bishops’ conference response to the sex abuse crisis of 2002. Gregory was the bishop who ushered into being the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and the accompanying “Essential Norms.”

While the Charter is widely thought to have changed ecclesial culture for the better with regard to child and youth protection, it has been panned during the last year because it is understood to pertain to priests and deacons only, using language that explicitly delineates the exclusion of bishops from some norms.

The shortcomings of the “Dallas Charter,” are not Gregory’s fault, but bishops who want to convey that the Church is moving on from “business as usual” may be reticent to elect as president someone so directly connected to the Charter.

There is also Gregory’s task in Washington. The archbishop is 71, and is largely understood to have only a four-year mandate to begin the process of restoring trust among Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington, which has been the epicenter of the McCarrick affair, through which Gregory’s predecessor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, lost a great deal of trust among his priests, and among ordinary Washington Catholics. This task, Gregory is known to understand, will require a considerable investment of personal and pastoral time, and for that reason, the archbishop may not find the prospect of running the bishops’ conference a temptation.

But if he does want the job, there is at least one thing Gregory could do to improve his chances of being elected: He could release from the Archdiocese of Washington’s files on Theodore McCarrick as many records as possible, and encourage other diocesan bishops to do the same. Gregory has the opportunity in Washington to establish a new paradigm of transparency in Church governance – a paradigm much discussed but not yet much demonstrated – by releasing as much as possible on McCarrick, his finances, his friends and protectors, and then encouraging the other dioceses where McCarrick served to do the same.

While Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told CNA this week that he is precluded from issuing a full report on McCarrick by an attorney general’s investigation in the state, Gregory has not indicated that he is under any similar restriction. A comprehensive release of information from his archdiocese would do a great deal to restore confidence in Church leadership among practicing Catholics, and it would likely raise esteem for him considerably among the younger bishops in the conference, who have been calling for just such a release from Rome.

If that does happen, Gomez could face more of a challenge for election as conference president than expected.

Who will be elected vice president?

Some bishops have mentioned to CNA that Tobin could be a natural candidate for the position.

The Archbishop of Newark is affable and friendly to other bishops, well-known, and articulate. He has the experience of leading his own religious community, the Redemptorists, of a senior leadership position at the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life at the Vatican, and has led archdiocesan sees in both the Midwest and on the East Coast. As chairman of the USCCB Committee on Consecrated Life, Clergy, and Vocations, Tobin has played a prominent role in the Church’s response to the McCarrick crisis, and he presented one of the major policy documents on sexual abuse approved by the bishops at their November meeting.

The cardinal, in short, has considerable experience and qualifications that seem relevant to a leadership position at the conference.

But even if he were nominated as a candidate, Tobin might not accept the nomination. The cardinal withdrew from participating in the October 2018 synod on youth, which came just a few months after the McCarrick scandal began. At the time, Tobin recognized the havoc wrought by the McCarrick revelations on his archdiocese, which McCarrick led for more than a decade, and he explained the priority he placed on being present to the people of his own archdiocese, and especially to his priests.

Tobin is a cardinal, which means that he already has responsibilities taking him to Rome with regularity. Given his clear aversion to becoming an “airport bishop,” the cardinal might decline the possibility of adding even more frequent trips to Washington, DC to his schedule, especially as his archdiocese will soon grapple with fallout from the New Jersey attorney general’s investigation, and from the eventual release of Rome’s report on McCarrick.

If he were to stand for election, Tobin would face both episcopal support and criticism for his endorsement of “Building a Bridge”, a 2017 book by Fr. James Martin, SJ, who is a frequent writer and speaker on the topic of Church engagement with those who identify themselves as LGBT or LGBT activists. Bishops are divided on how best to approach that kind of engagement, and Martin’s work is at the center of that divide, because some bishops say that Martin’s work is not faithful to the teachings of the Church, while others actively promote it. While some bishops might be reticent to support a Tobin candidacy because of this, others would take Tobin’s position as a positive sign in the conference.

Tobin’s work on the U.S. implementation of Vos estis lux mundi is appreciated by bishops, as is his work on revisions to the national directory for deacons. But during the last year, Tobin has been the subject of rumors and questions about his personal life from some blogs and websites. The cardinal has denied rumors of misconduct, and scant evidence has turned up to support conjectures made about him. It is unlikely that Tobin would allow such rumors to keep him from serving the Church in whatever way he thinks himself to be called, but there are likely some members of the bishops’ conference who, given the sensitivities surrounding McCarrick and the Archdiocese of Newark, might judge this an inopportune time for the cardinal to stand for election.

Another frequently named possibility for conference vice president is Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City. Coakley has been a bishop for 15 years, and served a term as chairman of Catholic Relief Services, the bishops’ international humanitarian aid apostolate.

In his role at CRS, he is generally regarded as having addressed lingering issues pertaining to the Catholic identity of the institution and its partners, in part by bringing together a coalition of moral theologians and international development experts to work through thorny issues. Coakley is also thought to have capably overseen leadership transitions amid a complex period of expansion during his term as CRS board chairman.

Bishops also noted to CNA that Coakley’s archdiocese, Oklahoma City, is perceived to have handled safe-environment related matters well, and that Coakley is perceived to have prioritized recruiting lay collaborators for the administration of his archdiocese.

Though he has a relatively low public profile, some bishops told CNA that Coakley has a moderating voice, is calm under pressure, a clear teacher and an organized administrator. And Coakley is already set to begin in November 2019 a term as chair of the bishops' influential Domestic Justice and Human Development committee.

While some bishops might prefer a bishop with more name recognition beyond the conference, others told CNA that because he is not seen to carry any “baggage” into the election, the choice of Coakley for vice president could be exactly the right move after the bishops’ year of scandal.

Other names that have been mentioned as candidates for conference vice president are Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Archbishop Allen Vigneron, and Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul-Minneapolis, who is well regarded for his work to heal an archdiocese deeply wounded by grave clerical abuse scandals.

Of course, none of these figures have yet been nominated to the slate. Nomination requires that diocesan bishops propose the names of the candidates they would like to see considered for the post; a process that will take place over the next few months. But bishops have already begun talking about the needs of the Church, and the needs of their conference. The results of their discussion will be clear in November.   

 

German doctors fined for abortion ads

Berlin, Germany, Jun 17, 2019 / 05:29 pm (CNA).- Two German doctors were fined Friday for abortion advertisements which described how the procedure is carried out.

The Berlin district court ruled June 14 that advertisements may only promote abortion services and not go into descriptions about the procedure.

The decision followed a legal revision earlier this year which removed a complete ban on abortion advertisements.

“Doctors should in principle only indicate that they carry out abortions," the court said, according to France 24.

The gynecologists, Bettina Gaber and Verena Weyer, were fined 2,000 euro ($2,240) each for posting detailed advertisements for their joint practice in Berlin. The original fine was more than $8,000.

On their website, the advertisement included the words "anesthesia-free" and “drug induced,” according to the New York Times.

The doctors have said they will file an appeal to the court decision. They said the recent ruling restricts their freedoms of occupation and opinion.

In January, the German government relaxed a 1933 act that outlawed abortion advertisements, allowing doctors and hospitals to advertise abortion services.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, wanted the ban to stay, while the Social Democratic Party of Germany, a junior partner in the coalition government, favored a complete removal of the law.

Christian leaders call for dialogue, end to violence in Hong Kong

Hong Kong, China, Jun 17, 2019 / 04:17 pm (CNA).- Hundreds of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong are continuing to demonstrate against the government's plans to allow extraditions to mainland China— a plan which as of Saturday has been indefinitely suspended.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, had introduced a bill that would allow for secret arrests and extraditions to mainland China, where Communist courts would try alleged criminals.

The legislation drew widespread protest and was placed on hold, but protests have continued, calling for Lam’s resignation.

Catholic leaders are speaking out in support of the protestors and calling for peace and dialogue.

“They are protesting an issue about an extradition rule promoted by the government,” Cardinal John Tong Hon, Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, told Vatican Radio.

“This is our concern too...we ask our Catholics to pray for this situation.”

A group of six religious leaders in Hong Kong have formed a coalition to appeal for an end to violent protests— the largest anti-government demonstrations since 2003— on the island.

The cardinal is part of the interreligious coalition, which includes leaders of Catholicism, Protestant Christianity, Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, and Islam, Vatican Radio reported.

The coalition, on a visit to the Vatican this week, called for the individual rights of the protestors to be respected; distanced themselves from the violent tactics of some; and urged the government and the protestors to sit down together to engage in dialogue.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, held a Mass and prayer service on Sunday to pray for “the future of [Hong Kong].” He also posted a photo to Facebook of himself on stage with several protestors, with the caption “Hong Kong people, come on! Courage and force... Hong Kongers #withdrawextradictionbill.”

In addition, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong took part in a continuous ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after the latest rally on Sunday, The Union of Catholic Asian News reported.

The issue of extradition has been a contentious one in the region for a number of years, as Hong Kong has no formal extradition deal with Taiwan, Macao and mainland China, potentially creating legal loopholes in some circumstances.

Lam announced June 15 that she was putting the proposed legislation on indefinite hold, and she issued an apology via a government spokesperson. Despite this, protestors showed up June 16 in even greater numbers than the June 9 demonstrations, during which police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, injuring 72 members of the crowd; 21 police officers were also injured.

Many of the island’s Christians have been involved in the protests. Large groups of protestors have even adopted the hymn “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” as an unofficial anthem for the movement.

“Regrettably the ‘Extradition Bill’ dispute has now come to a violence and bloodshed stage,” the diocese of Hong Kong said in a June 12 statement.

“Therefore, once more we make an urgent appeal, that the SAR Government and the general public exercise restraint and seek a solution to the current dilemma through peaceful, rational channels.”

The Civil Human Rights Front, a political group that organized the protests, reported that nearly 2 million people had taken to the streets in the most recent protest, held June 16. Police said they counted 338,000 people along the original procession route.

Last week the organizers said a little over 1 million participated, while police put their estimate at 240,000.

As a special administrative region, Hong Kong has a large degree of autonomy from mainland China, with its own political and economic system. The territory was a British colony from 1842 until 1997.

There are some 581,000 Catholics in Hong Kong, or about eight percent of the population.

Hong Kong also has a separate legal system from the mainland. Britain ceded sovereignty of the island to China in 1997; the agreement giving Hong Kong special rights and freedoms under Chinese rule ends in 2047.

Hong Kong extradition bill could further endanger Christians, advocates say

Hong Kong, China, Jun 17, 2019 / 03:52 pm (CNA).- Though a proposed change to extradition laws in Hong Kong is on hold for now, Christian leaders and advocacy groups are continuing to speak out, warning that under the proposal those in Hong Kong who support Chinese Christians could be unjustly brought to mainland China for trial.

“If the extradition law is passed, it is a death sentence for Hong Kong,” Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller imprisoned for eight months by the Chinese for selling books critical of the government, told ucanews.com.

“Beijing will use this law to control Hong Kong completely. Freedom of speech will be lost. In the past, the regime kidnapped its critics, like me, illegally. With this law, they will abduct their critics legally,” Lam continued.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, had introduced a bill that would allow for secret arrests and extraditions to mainland China, where communist courts would try alleged criminals.

The bill was suspended June 15.

The issue of extradition has been a contentious one in the region for a number of years, as Hong Kong has no formal extradition deal with Taiwan, Macao, and mainland China, potentially creating legal loopholes in some circumstances.

Still, advocacy groups expressed worry that the law could endanger the freedom that Christians in Hong Kong currently enjoy.

“If the latest legislation was successful, those seeking refuge and freedom of conscience in Hong Kong could face extradition back to the mainland,” International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group for persecuted Christians, said June 17.

ICC cited Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who expressed concern that the bill could be used to persecute Christians that the Chinese government considers dissidents.

Although the proposed law says that alleged criminals would not be handed over for religious reasons, Ying said this is a practice which the Chinese government has a track record of doing by accusing “dissidents” of economic crimes.

Hongkongers currently have significantly more freedoms than Chinese living on the mainland, including access to uncensored internet. Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, and it was returned to China under a “one country, two systems” principle, allowing it its own legislature and economic system.

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

If the extradition law took effect, any Hong Kong Christian in support of underground Churches could be accused of committing economic crimes, ICC states.

Not all Christian groups oppose the legislation, however; Peter Douglas Koon, the Anglican provincial secretary-general of Hong Kong, supports the change, and the Anglican Church in Hong Kong has stated its position as being that offenders must be brought to justice by whatever means necessary, LaCroix International reports.

Edwin Chow, acting president of The Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, echoed the ICC’s fear that the legal change could be used to bring Christians to China on economic or business charges.

“There have been cases when Hong Kong people were charged with smuggling when they transferred Bibles to mainland China. I am afraid it will affect the communication between the churches on both sides. That’s why I am against the amendment,” Chow told ucanews.com.

Catholic leaders are speaking out in support of the protestors and calling for peace and dialogue. Hundreds of thousands of protestors are still out in force as of yesterday.

“They are protesting an issue about an extradition rule promoted by the government,” Cardinal John Tong Hon, Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong, told Vatican Radio.

“This is our concern too...we ask our Catholics to pray for this situation.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, held a Mass and prayer service on Sunday to pray for “the future of [Hong Kong].” He also posted a photo to Facebook yesterday of himself on stage with several protestors, with the caption “Hong Kong people, come on! Courage and force... Hong Kongers #withdrawextradictionbill.”

In addition, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing of Hong Kong took part in an ecumenical prayer meeting outside the Legislative Council building with thousands of Christians overnight after the latest rally on Sunday, The Union of Catholic Asian News reported.