Hong Kong Calvary 2021

It is nothing short of scandalous that Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, and other brave men and women are facing such persecution without any public support from the Vatican.

Publisher and pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai at a December 2020 court appearance in Hong Kong. (Image: Wiki Commons)

The news was expected, but that did not make it any less wrenching: newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai, veteran democracy activist Martin Lee, and other brave defenders of human rights were convicted in Hong Kong on a slew of offenses that had nothing to do with violating just laws and everything to do with challenging the lawlessness of Hong King’s communist Chinese rulers.

Still, there was something entirely appropriate about the story hitting the pages of American newspapers on Good Friday. Because for years now, Jimmy Lai and Martin Lee, two devout Catholics, have been walking the way to Calvary, along which they have met the Lord by conforming themselves to Christ and his redemptive suffering. That suffering was in service to the truth, as Jesus reminds Pilate in the Johannine passion account the Church reads every Good Friday. And these two brave Catholics, and their pro-democracy compatriots, are surely suffering for the truth.

That they have done so willingly, knowing full well what they were doing and what risks they were running, makes their witness even more Christlike.

One of the most striking characteristics of St. John’s passion narrative is that Jesus is in sovereign control of events throughout the story. The passion is emphatically not something that just happens to the miracle-working preacher from Nazareth; the passion is something Jesus embraces as the destiny appointed for him by the Father for the salvation of the world. So throughout John’s passion story, Jesus is in control of events: in the Last Supper discourse; in the garden at Gethsemane; in his confrontation with the Temple authorities; in his dialogue with Pilate; in his words from the cross to Mary and John – in all these dramatic moments, it is Jesus who drives the action forward. Thus his last words from the cross, “It is finished,” are the final proclamation of his messianic sovereignty: he has completed the work the Father sent him into the world to do and so he bows his head and gives up his spirit (John 19.30), in the ultimate act of obedience to the Father’s will.

Jimmy Lai and Martin Lee do not, of course, think of themselves in messianic terms. But their walking of Hong Kong’s way of the cross these past years has been a true imitation of Christ. Both men could have left the city they loved and lived comfortably elsewhere; both chose to stay and fight for the freedom they believe God wills for human beings created in the divine image and likeness. Both could have muffled their protests when the communist thugs in Beijing began to tighten the screws on Hong Kong, in blatant violation of China’s agreement with Great Britain when sovereignty over the city returned to China in 1997; instead, they amplified their voices of protest, even when, in Jimmy Lai’s case, the Beijing regime and its Hong Kong lackeys did everything in their power to ruin him financially.

Asked whether he had ever considered leaving Hong Kong under these pressures, 82-year old Martin Lee’s response was both unequivocal and unequivocally Christian: “If I have the choice of dying peacefully in bed outside Hong Kong, or dying in pain in a Chinese jail, the question for me is not how I die, but will I go to heaven? Dying without my convictions is what would really give me pain.”

Jimmy Lai, for his part, has manifested the depth of his Catholic faith by the serenity and calm with which he has faced his persecutors and jailers. In imitation of Jesus before Pilate, Jimmy Lai has neither flinched nor cursed; he has taken his stand on the truth, and thereby proven himself the nobler and stronger character in this drama. Since his imprisonment without bail, Jimmy Lai has not lived on anger or hatred; he has lived in faith, offering his suffering to the Lord and fed by the reception of Holy Communion brought to him in jail by another Catholic hero, Cardinal Joseph Zen, S.D.B.. The Vatican and the pope may not have time for Cardinal Zen; but Cardinal Zen has time for Jimmy Lai and other prisoners of conscience.

Jimmy Lai will keep fighting to the end, as will Martin Lee. They will fight, however, with weapons of the spirit and with real arguments – weapons that the brute force and lies deployed by the Beijing regime against them cannot match. In this, too, they are living the imitation of Christ. Both these Catholic prisoners of conscience may die in communist Chinese prisons. But they will be the real victors in the contest, because they will have remained faithful to the truth about human dignity they know as an essential part of their profound Catholic faith. And the just Judge of all will know what they have done, why they have done it, and in whose holy name they have done it. Believing that, they can fight on without rancor, nourished by the sacraments and prayer.

It is nothing short of scandalous that these brave men and others are facing such persecution without any public support from the Vatican: a default in moral obligation and duty made even worse because the Holy See continues to insist on the efficacy of its new arrangements and its “dialogue” with Beijing.

There is, however, still time for the Vatican to raise its voice and display the kind of courage Pope St. John Paul II showed in facing down thug regimes. When the show trials of Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, and other Hong Kong human rights activists conclude with their inevitable convictions and these brave freedom fighters are consigned to Chinese prisons, the Beijing regime hopes the world will forget about them. That hope could be frustrated if Pope Francis, secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the Vatican’s chief diplomat, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, keep the names of Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee, and their fellow-dissidents alive in the international public square.

It is the very least the Church’s highest authorities can do for some of Catholicism’s bravest sons and daughters, who are walking the Via Crucis in imitation of the Lord, and in obedience to what they believe is their Christian and Catholic duty.

Jimmy Lai and Martin Lee are men of paschal faith. They know that the worst in human history happened on Good Friday and that God gave his answer to that on Easter Sunday. Knowing that, they can live as free men in the deepest sense of human freedom. May all their fellow-Catholics pray and work for Hong Kong’s freedom in solidarity with them. That is surely what the Lord who reigns from Calvary would want us to do.


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About George Weigel 335 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).

14 Comments

  1. All you need to know is shown in the photo above this reply box. The bishop of Rome visiting the dictator/executioner Castro at his home. Kindred spirits holding hands. Nice.
    Remember also the photo of the bishop of Rome with the leader of Bolivia as Francis accepts his gift of the crucified Christ on the communist hammer and sickle plaque. Francis did not object. Nice.
    The CCP has a friend in Francis. Bet on it.

  2. Thank you, George, for this timely article.

    Scary times when the woke progressives in the Vatican and Western nations are afraid or unwilling to confront a totalitarian world power trampling on human rights.

  3. “It is nothing short of scandalous that these brave men and others are facing such persecution without any public support from the Vatican.” How true. Thank you Mr. Weigel for writing this.

  4. All I can do is marvel at the inner strength of these two fabulously free souls, and pray that God gives me strength to endure when I am tested.

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner

  5. It’s become very apparent with this pope just how in bed the Vatican is with the globalists BUT previous popes worked with them as well. Benedict XVl in Caritas et Veritas wrote about the need for global governance, UN needing sharper teeth and redistribution of wealth. John Paul ll also worked with the new world order leaders as the Vatican signed onto AGENDA 21 back in 1992. We know watching the lobbying of the USCCB that they are socialists also known as the democratic party at prayer. So, the Church has been enabling the destruction of our country for years as they work towards AGENDA 21/30..a new world order. I guess the takeover of Hong Kong is part of the agreement for the new world order.

    • As long as there is ONE like Archbishop Cordileone among their number, it is unfair to call the USCCB the “democratic party at prayer”, although I will admit that it is a catchy phrase.

  6. Not only Jimmy Lai and Martin Lee suffer, there are many, many other Christians who are suffering in prison. Beyond praying, and praying for them I do daily, what else can we do? The hard-hearted Vatican seems not open at all to letters or comments on the subject. May the many incarcerated ones in Hong Kong be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

  7. As Lori points out globalism isn’t new. Benedict XVI and John Paul II both held idealistic views on world government with a certain idiosyncratic flair for the common good. Both were committed to the Vat II thesis of opening the Church to the world with a more coherent message. Both placed a naive trust in human nature, evident in John Paul’s appointments. That was not such a bad thing at the time these men formed their views; in hindsight it certainly seems mistaken [although in John Paul’s favor, like Judas appointed by Christ, it was Judas who betrayed Christ]. Errors in judgment are bound to occur, not the judgment itself unless we judge solely on outcome rather than intention. We cannot predict a good outcome with certainty for a good intention. That said where this Vatican has taken globalism is another matter, brought to a contemporaneous and evident bad outcome as documented by George Weigel in respect to China. If we are to engage the world it must be on our terms. If instead we abandon moral specificity for sake of a presumed greater good, brotherhood, world peace, egalitarian social justice we assume the Marxist agenda for universal welfare. Catholicism loses its singular indispensable character of the Cross as the means to salvation. Willingness to suffer, even injustice for sake of a greater good, the salvation of souls, including our own, remains the essential doctrine revealed to us in Christ’s Crucifixion.

    • As I read this, Father, you are equating St. Pope John Paul II with Judas, the man who betrayed Christ.

      I disagree.

      • Terrence unfortunately, better fortunately your discontent is misplaced. Reread carefully and you’ll see that I’m comparing John Paul II to Christ, and suggested appointments like McCarrick as Judases. Like you I’m a firm supporter and admirer of John Paul II.

  8. We can forward this article to our diocesan newspapers and ask them to publish. Many, are not aware of what has been happening in Hong Kong, and the mainland, because our media does not cover the issue. Too many economic and political leaders, and companies like Apple and Nike, and the entertainment industry, including professional sports, have a vested economic interest in ignoring the human rights abuses of the CCP regime. We as Catholics must raise awareness, and push for divestment from economic cooperation with the CCP, move production to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, and vital needs back to the US. We have a moral obligation to come to the aid of what Cardinal Zen and Jimmy Lai are asking of us here in the US. They have been ignored not only by the Vatican, but by our Conference of US Bishops for too long. Why is that?

  9. I’ve also wondered at the Magisterial documents what seem positive toward a system of international law with real enforcement powers.

    This seems naive, given the Church’s realistic idea of human nature and behavior.

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  1. The pope may not have time for Cardinal Zen, but Cardinal Zen has time for Jimmy Lai - California Catholic Daily
  2. Hong Kong Calvary 2021 | Sunday sermons, weekday observations

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