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HONG KONG (ChurchMilitant.com) - One of two living Chinese cardinals is admonishing Hong Kong clergy to watch their language — to the dismay of Catholics in the diocese.
Cardinal John Tong Hon, apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, sent a letter to priests and deacons last week titled "Fraternal Admonition," warning them to watch what they say from the pulpit and in speeches.
The letter comes nearly two months after the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) national security law in Hong Kong went into effect, which sparked protests and arrests.
"The homily is not meant to convey the preacher's personal views (such as his own view on a social or political issue) but God's message," Hon wrote. "The homily is not meant to convey the preacher's personal views (such as his own view on a social or political issue) but God's message."
"However, slandering and offensive expressions insinuating or instigating hatred and social disorder are unchristian and inappropriate for the liturgy," he added.
Hon cautioned clergy "that our faithful are all the time listening to what we say and watching what we do."
The letter was sent on the same day Tong stopped the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic diocese from publishing in local newspapers a prayer against government oppression.
The canceled prayer reads:
Lord, you reward your faithful servants with prosperity, but for servants not of your mind, your justice will come and you will deliver your people from oppression and slavery. As the city of Hong Kong is under threats of abusive control, we pray for your mercy. Amongst adversaries and oppression, we believe your word and grace shall bring back the confidence and hope of your people.
He also halted the group's fundraising efforts to pay for advertising space.
One priest in the diocese, who requested anonymity for fear of the national security law, explained young Catholics in the Hong Kong diocese are for democracy.
"They are looking for leadership, and I doubt you would find any Catholic under 35 here who is not angry and who does not see the chancery as siding with the people tear-gassing them in the streets," he said. "The Church is for human dignity, for human rights. To pretend like we can sing a lullaby for a homily in these times is absurd."
Another priest, who also asked for anonymity, said, "The government sees the presence of very many Catholics in the demonstrations. They hear the words of [Chinese Cdl. Joseph] Zen and [Burmese Cdl. Maung] Bo and they see the Church can be somehow supportive of civil freedoms."
Offering a reason for Cdl. Tong's letter, the priest said the prelate "does not want the Church to become a target, I think, and he wants people to lay off attacking the government in homilies. He said himself, people are always watching."
He also revealed not all Catholics in the region oppose the CCP.
"Certainly there are Catholics here — including some priests — who are very much pro-the government, even pro-the mainland," said the priest. "There is a line between supporting the freedom of the Church and even social justice and making the diocese a nakedly political actor."
Zen expressed his willingness to suffer persecution.
"If right and proper words were considered against their law, I will endure all the suing, trials and arrests" he said at the time. "Numerous predecessors have endured similarly."
The prelate showed no fear in denouncing the CCP's quest for total control, slowly picking away at Hong Kong's autonomy.
"Perhaps they are truly insane. Who knows? Let them be then. Isn't there a saying, 'Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad?'" Zen concluded.