I arrived in Hong Kong on a Friday in mid-September, the sixteenth weekend of protests against a proposed bill in the Hong Kong Legislative Council to amend its extradition laws with China. As I live in Taiwan, a little more than an hour away by plane, I had sent a message to a friend involved in the Hong Kong Federation of Catholic Students, the main university-level Catholic student organization in the city, to see if a visit would be possible. This led to an invitation to attend the organization’s school-year convocation Mass and an opportunity to observe the city and the movement.
The Mass was not entirely insulated from the political crisis; the students’ broad support for the protests was obvious. They told me that the Catholic diocese had issued a notice prohibiting the performance of “Glory to Hong Kong,” an anthem musically resembling “The Internationale”—a rare example of a song written for a political movement that has currency among its participants. The sixty or seventy students in attendance nevertheless sang a moving rendition at the conclusion of the Mass. The organist then played an encore as the students gathered at the front of the church for a photograph behind a banner reading: “Struggle for democratic righteousness, build the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.”
Afterward, in the federation’s office beside the church, there was a casual banquet. The mood was one of joyful camaraderie, despite the seriousness with which the students spoke of their support for the protests, which was couched in terms of opposition to the influence of the People’s Republic of China on Hong Kong life. The students and priests I spoke with emphasized the splits in opinion among Catholics—particularly along generational lines—regarding the protests. It shouldn’t be forgotten, they added, that Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong who is widely seen as pro-Beijing, is also Catholic.
The room, some combination of library and lounge and garnished with all the talismans of a Catholic school, was crowded with boxes of respirators, hard hats, and other protest gear, which the students were invited to take as needed. Both in the singing of “Glory to Hong Kong” and in the distribution of protest equipment, the students had the protection of the celebrant of the Mass, Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired bishop of Hong Kong.