Hong Kong: new bishop calls for religious freedom in China

 Bishop John Tong, the new leader of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong said yesterday he wants to see religious freedom in China as soon as possible.

But Bishop John said, (unlike his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Zen) he was not going to join in the annual 4 June vigil to commemorate those killed after pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago.

Speaking at a press conference, he said: "We will spare no effort in our role as a bridge Church to the Church in our motherland; to promote unity among the different groups of the Catholic Church in the mainland, and to see them enjoy full religious freedom as early as possible, so that they can make greater contributions to society."

Bishop John said said he would speak out on issues "in the case of clear and gross injustice". He said he would encourage Catholics to participate in politics, but added clergy should not be "captivated by political ideologies and parties" because of their "limited time and energy".

Hong Kong, which enjoys religious freedoms not permitted on the mainland, has around 250,000 Catholics. Cardinal Zen was an outspoken critic of mainland China's oppressive treatment of Christians.

Since the Communist takeover in mainland China, diplomatic relations with the Vatican have been strained and many clergy have been imprisoned. Yet, while the government accepts an 'official church' an underground one loyal to the Vatican has continued to grow. Many hope the two churches will one day be united under the authority of the Vatican.

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