‘We’re praying for human rights and civil liberties’ in nationwide Zoom liturgy March 21

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

The power of prayer is being marshalled across Canada to call out abuse of power by China’s Communist Party in a national, ecumenical Zoom liturgy scheduled for March 21.

“We’re praying for human rights and civil liberties,” Jesuit Fr. Richard Soo told The Catholic Register. “You can include democracy in that, if you want. We’re certainly praying for the pro-democracy activists.”

The evening prayer event from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. SK time (7-8 p.m. Eastern) on Zoom is being sponsored by the Canadian Council of Churches.

Heavy-handed crackdowns on activists demanding democratic rights promised in the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, government interference and repression of Church activities on the mainland and the genocidal imprisonment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang Province are all reasons to pray, Soo said.

“As Catholics we are very aware of the persecution of the Catholic Church. We are very aware of clergy and lay people in prison,” the Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Catholic priest said. “We’re very aware of icons and crosses being removed from church buildings. We’re very aware that we’re not allowed to give catechism to anyone under the age of 18 — it’s illegal.”

Detention of approximately three million Uyghers in re-education camps, used as a pool of forced, cheap labour throughout China, is only one indication of what Christians and others will face under Beijing’s direct control of Hong Kong, said Soo.

In a non-binding vote in February, the Canadian Parliament voted 266-0 to declare treatment of Uyghers in China a genocide (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from the vote).

Last year Beijing imposed a new national security law for Hong Kong, giving the Communist Party in Beijing control over who is allowed to run for municipal office, what kind of protest will be tolerated and extending state surveillance of both online and offline activism.

“They’ve totally reneged on democracy and they’ve totally reneged on any kind of civil rights since last July 1, since the imposition — not passing — the imposition by Beijing of the national security law,” said Soo. “People now wipe their Facebook posts for fear. Everyone daily lives under threat. This is why we pray for Hong Kong.”

The prayer event isn’t a protest for or against Beijing’s government or any party in Hong Kong, said Sr. Donna Geernaert, Canadian Council of Churches chair of the Commission on Justice and Peace.

“It’s not a prayer that tries to take sides. It’s a prayer that recognizes a situation which is challenging for everybody involved and tries to really just pray for everybody — to recognize that violence is not a good solution to any problem,” Geernaert said. “If there’s something we can do, prayer seemed to be the most effective thing… You could certainly be supportive of democracy without necessarily choosing any particular party.”

Canadian born and bred, Soo finds himself in the crosshairs of Beijing.

“I can’t go and visit Hong Kong anymore, because I have come out publicly in support of human rights activists. My parishioners can’t go back and visit their families because they would be looking at a life in prison, a life sentence, possibly in prison in China and then torture,” he said. “That’s why we’re praying. That’s why we’re asking other people to pray with us.”

The Catholic Register reached out to China’s embassy in Ottawa. There was no response.