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HONG KONG (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic media tycoon and philanthropist was arrested by communist authorities with a view to forcing the Hong Kong Catholic Church into joining the communist government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), a top China-commentator revealed.
Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, one of the biggest financial supporters of faithful Catholics, donated over $20 million to the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cdl. Joseph Zen Ze-kiun from 2005 to 2011.
Lai, a trenchant critic of Beijing, was arrested and detained for 36 hours under the controversial new national security law Monday.
On Saturday, two days before his arrest, the faithful Catholic slammed the Vatican's secret deal with China.
"I hope the Vatican finally realizes the secret deals they made with China is secret because it's so shamefully defeatist, and that is why they want to reverse course now," he tweeted, posting a report from his newspaper Apple Daily on the possibility of the Holy See renewing its pact with Beijing in September.
"But what's next? Xi's portrait replacing Jesus? Maybe we should put Xi on the cross instead," Lai wrote, blasting the decision of Hong Kong diocese's Catholic schools to promote a "correct understanding" of the China-imposed national security law.
"I'm prepared for prison. If it comes, I will have the opportunity to read books I haven't read. The only thing I can do is to be positive," Lai said.
"Thank you for the grace of God, your support!" he wrote after his release, tweeting an image of Our Lady of Fatima.
The media baron was a main financial supporter of Catholics who refused to join the communist, government-controlled CPCA, reported Bitter Winter, the journal on religious liberty and human rights in China.
"Jimmy Lai's arrest is a message to the Hong Kong Catholic Church and a blow to the Catholic conscientious objectors in mainland China — those bishops, priests and lay Catholics who refuse to join the CPCA," Turin sociologist Massimo Introvigne observed.
"After the Vatican-China deal of 2018, Catholics in China are allowed and even encouraged by the Holy See to join the CPCA," noted Introvigne, a philosophy graduate of the Pontifical Gregorian University.
"However, the Vatican guidelines of 2019 recommend that conscientious objectors who refuse to join the CPCA for reasons of principle be 'respected.' This is not happening, and conscientious objectors are harassed and thrown in jail," he maintained.
Introvigne, director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) explained that after Pope Francis' 2018 deal, most conscientious objectors living in very poor, persecuted communities stopped receiving financial support from the Holy See.
"But they may have received support, directly or indirectly, from Jimmy Lai," he wrote.
The $20 million donated by Lai to Cdl. Zen was also used to support the studies of Chinese priests in Rome, Zen's own trips to the Vatican, and other good causes.
Lai, who also holds United Kingdom citizenship, reportedly donated $20 million in all to various causes, many of them associated with the pro-democracy movement.
Lai's donations were further channeled to the underground Church in mainland China —faithful Catholics who refused to join the CPCA — and may continue to benefit recipients of Catholic communities, Introvigne suggested.
"It is an old CCP [Chinese Communist Party] tactic to strangle religious dissidents by drying up their financial sources. This tactic is now being used against Catholic conscientious objectors," he noted.
"Worse can come, as the Catholic Church in Hong Kong may be forced to incorporate itself into the CPCA, from which it has so far remained independent," the sociologist remarked.
The leftwing BBC admitted that over its 25 years in print, Lai's flagship Apple Daily had turned into a newspaper "unafraid to be openly critical of the Chinese state and a standard-bearer for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong."
Meanwhile, in an interview with Fox Business News on Thursday, President Donald Trump said that he had granted "a huge amount of money to incentivize the maintenance of Hong Kong's freedom."
"Hong Kong will never succeed under China. The Hong Kong market will be destroyed, and no one will want to do business," Trump declared.
Over 200 police officers raided the office of Apple Daily and handcuffed Lai, charging him under the new security law with "foreign collusion" — along with two of his sons and two executives of Next Media.
He was also charged with fraud. Under the current regime, Lai could be sent to mainland China for incarceration and trial.
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