Hong Kong cardinal urges forgiveness on Tiananmen Square 35th anniversary

Hong Kong cardinal urges forgiveness on Tiananmen Square 35th anniversary

Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong. / Credit: Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus

CNA Staff, Jun 4, 2024 / 14:22 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Stephen Chow Sau-yan of Hong Kong, marking the 35th anniversary of the infamous Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, urged Christians in China to “learn to proactively forgive” and “move beyond finger-pointing and the painful ‘I will never forgive’ mindset.”

In a May 30 reflection in the diocesan paper Sunday Examiner, Chow said the 1989 massacre of innocent protestors “remains a sore spot that requires proper attention for healing. And I am praying for that closure to happen.”

“My faith, nonetheless, prompts me to forgive whoever and whatever. Maybe it is through forgiveness that the different parties can move beyond finger-pointing and the painful ‘I will never forgive’ mindset. With forgiveness already available, reconciliation and healing may stand a better chance of becoming a reality.”

During the June 4, 1989, clash between protesters and Chinese troops, tanks rolled into Beijing’s main city square and military forces opened fire on university students and other citizens calling for democratic reforms. The exact number of people who died in the massacre is not certain, but according to one account, as many as 10,000 people died, while the regime claimed fewer than 300 people did.

In mainland China, where information about Tiananmen is heavily censored, people have never been allowed to hold official commemorations of what is known as the “June 4 incident.” Hong Kong, however, which is a special administrative region of China, has long held annual candlelight vigils to commemorate the victims; Chow has said that he has in the past taken part in these commemorations.

In 2020, Chinese authorities forbade the commemorations amid the pandemic, though thousands defied the order. Protests in Hong Kong to mark Tiananmen have been heavily curtailed since then. According to the Associated Press, Hong Kong police have already arrested seven people on suspicion of alleged sedition over their posting of social media content about commemorating Tiananmen.

Referring to “the life-sapping event that took place 35 years ago in the capital city,” Chow, who was appointed to the Diocese of Hong Kong in 2021, said the incident “remains unsettling for many” and “left a deep wound in parts of our psyche, though it has been buried and scarred over.”

“Our God is a God of unconditional love. His forgiveness is always available for those who need it but are not yet courageous enough to ask for it. God’s unconditional love for us is overwhelmingly expressed through the passion and death of his only Son, even when we are living in a state of unconfessed sinfulness,” Chow continued.

“Thankfully, it is through this self-sacrificial act of love that we are aware of our need for God’s forgiveness. And with the resurrection of the Son, we can enjoy a new beginning. Precisely because God’s forgiveness does not require our repentance, we can also learn to proactively forgive. Even though to forgive does not mean to forget, it does offer a precondition for our inner freedom and a brighter future for all.”

Beijing has in recent years tightened control over Hong Kong and cracked down on dissent and the free practice of religion. Several prominent Catholic figures have been arrested for apparent violations of new security laws, including Catholic media mogul Jimmy Lai

As of late last year, the size of the Christian population in China has leveled off after the dramatic increases of the 1980s and 1990s, according to a Pew Research Center analysis. China witnessed a dramatic growth in Christianity in the 1980s and 1990s when restrictions on the practice of religion that were imposed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s were relaxed.

Chow, who was made a cardinal in July 2023, recently visited three Catholic dioceses in mainland China, leading a 10-person delegation of Catholics from Hong Kong to the southern Chinese cities of Guangzhou, Shantou, and Shenzhen in April in his second official visit to China since becoming bishop of Hong Kong.

Chow concluded his reflection by asking readers to join him in a prayer:

“Oh, the Lord of history!

In prayers I have walked with the victims and their families in the past 35 years; 

With no lack of occasional reflections and fluctuating sadness that seems unending at times.

Yet at the same time, I am holding fast to my hope in the risen Lord who has gone through death himself.

Now, I come before you in prayer.

In faith and hope, I entrust you, Lord, with the country’s democratic development. You who are forever just and wise. 

Let me put on your yoke and learn from you.

That I may have a glimpse through your goodness and humility, the eternal desire of life.

Moving forward in love, supporting each other in addressing our contradictions, let us enjoy the beauty of trinitarian communion.

Oh Lord, please guide us! Please walk with us, the people of China!