The head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong has advised Catholics in the city to take part in a pro-democracy demonstration planned for July 1. Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said all members of the church, together with all Hong Kong's people, were patriotic and loved the city. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Bishop Zen dismissed criticism earlier this month by a senior state official who said that he should not meddle in politics and that he was opposing the nation. Yang Tongxiang, deputy director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs, accused Bishop Zen of not following the Basic Law. "He is Chinese - why should he oppose his own country?" Mr Yang said. In the past, several mainland officials and state media have repeatedly criticised the bishop for his stance over democracy and for being a harsh critic of the Hong Kong and central governments. He was attacked particularly for his opposition to last year's national security bill. Bishop Zen, who encouraged Hong Kong's 260,000 Catholics to take part in the mass demonstration last July 1, calling for a greater say in governance and opposed the bill - said he would do the same again this year. He said: "Of course I will encourage them to go. People should go to peaceful demonstrations if they have important views to express." The Civil Human Rights Front, which is organising the demonstration said it hoped up to one million people would take part - to demand the introduction of universal suffrage by 2007. Asked whether the participation of the church in the rally would attract the wrath of Beijing, Bishop Zen said: "Would you stop doing everything just because you fear people would accuse you of being unpatriotic?" Last year Bishop Zen attended a prayer session before the protest march. He said he would consider taking part in the march itself this year, although he has kept a low profile during the recent impassioned debates on reform.
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