Hong Kong Church leaders call for time of healing after violent protests against extradition bill

(Photo: Ruslan Bardash)

Church leaders in Hong Kong have called on the city's people to lay down their differences and come together to "rebuild our home" after a controversial extradition bill fuelled massive protests

Record numbers of people turned out onto the streets of the city to protest the bill which proposed allowing citizens of Hong Kong accused of certain crimes to be extradited to mainland China for trial. 

Critics of the bill claim it would undermine the freedom of Hong Kong citizens and the "one country, two systems" principle which many of them still fiercely hold to more than two decades after the handover from Britain that made the city a Special Autonomous Region (SAR).

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has suspended the bill and apologised for the unrest, but she is under pressure to resign as the city braces for fresh rallies on Friday. 

In a pastoral letter, the House of Bishops of the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui - the Anglican Church in Hong Kong - blamed the unrest on the SAR government, saying they were guilty of "ignoring" the concerns of citizens.

They said the events of the last few weeks were a reminder of the need to learn the "wholeness of love" found in the Trinity as they called for peace. 

They praised the city's young people for being "willing to stand up for their ideals, to fight for the freedom that they cherish, and to face with courage against external threats".

"We also admire their determination to keep peace, rationality, mutual assistance and the spirit of doing the undoable," they said.

"We should be proud of these qualities displayed by them. That is the right spirit that belongs not only to our youth but all Hong Kong citizens." 

The letter's signatories, Archbishop Paul Kwong, Bishop Andrew Chan and Bishop Timothy Kwok, said they were "grieved", however, at the injuries that have occurred during violent clashes between protesters and police, and the death of a protester as he unfurled a banner with a slogan opposing the bill.  

"We are strongly against using violence against violence because it will cause more physical injuries and mental trauma as well as hatred," the bishops said.

"The church is determined to say 'no' to violence. We hope all people, especially Christians, would involve in social movements and in maintaining law and order on the basis of love and peace that can only be learned by giving up the anger, resentment, exclusion, and self-righteousness in our heart.

"All these hidden negative energies can distort the noblest human ideals into the dirtiest hatred." 

The bishops called on the people of Hong Kong to come together to work for peace and the common good. 

"[We] have no choice but to love all, be they the youth, students, the police, government officials, legislators of different political parties, and even the Chief Executive, because 'there is no fear in love' (1 John 4:18)," they said.

"Hong Kong is our home and is treasured by our Trinitarian God. We hope all citizens would heal each other the wound inflicted by the division and would lay down our differences to reconcile and to rebuild our home." 

They concluded by calling on Mrs Lam to serve the people of Hong Kong and build the city with "honesty, humbleness, willingness to accept criticism and to improve".

"Let us humbly beseech our Lord and to hope all Hong Kong citizens and the civil servants would step up communication and to mutually help each other in an honest way for the common goal of building a good, harmonious, prosperous, just, and loving Hong Kong, which offers hope and opportunities to the next generation," they said. 

The Catholic Church also issued a statement demanding a "thorough" independent inquiry into the clashes between protesters and police, and the full withdrawal of the bill. 

"While the government has made clear that the extradition bill has already been 'suspended', we still opt for it to make an explicit public statement that the bill has been 'withdrawn', to meet the strong demand of the general public," it said.