HONG KONG — For the first time in three decades, there will be no organized memorial to the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Hong Kong, the last place on Chinese territory where any kind of commemoration was possible.
On Tuesday, the Hong Kong Catholic diocese announced that it would no longer hold memorial Mass to pray for the victims of the June 4, 1989 massacre in Beijing, reflecting how the churches, along with the rest of civil society, have been pushed into censoring themselves. A Beijing-written national security law has crushed dissent in the once semiautonomous city.
The church’s move comes after the candlelight vigil that once featured thousands marking the anniversary at an outdoor park was canceled in 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic, authorities said at the time. The Catholic Churches’ memorial Masses, which persisted until this year, were the last form of organized commemoration in the city.
In a response to The Post, the diocese said that it does not “mean to disapprove of the memorial Mass” and that there are different meaningful ways to commemorate the deceased according to the Catholic faith, such as “praying for the deceased in private or in small groups.”
“However, our front-line colleagues … are concerned that such activity, if held this year, might violate the national security law now in force,” the response read.
The decision comes two weeks after the seizure of 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was briefly detained by the national security police, along with four others for their involvement in a humanitarian relief fund that provided financial assistance to those arrested in the 2019 pro-democracy protests.
The move to cancel the memorial Mass this year was to avoid controversies that could further split the church, said Francesco Sisci, an Italian China expert affiliated with Settimana News, a Catholic research center based in Italy.
Sisci said that the diocese is “walking on very thin ice,” and sought to calm the situation.
Hong Kong authorities said they have not received applications for “non-designated events” this year from any organization or individual on June 4 in Victoria Park, the past location for the candlelight vigil, but added that they are not accepting “other usage” bookings, citing public health concerns due to the pandemic.
Hong Kong’s candlelight vigil, the only large-scale organized commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown on Chinese soil, was also banned in 2021, but seven Catholic churches continued to publicly honor the victims and commemorate the massacre through special Masses. Even non-Catholics lined up for a seat ahead of time and attended the Mass.
The Catholic community in Hong Kong comprises about 400,000 people, which is about 5% of the city’s population.
Despite the ban in 2020, thousands joined the candlelight vigil at the time and courts later charged and jailed protest leaders who took part.
Since the passage of the national security law in June 2020, the police have arrested 175 people under the security law and charged more than 110 of them as of March 31, according to official figures.