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Hong Kong activist: Proposed law could worsen religious liberty, persecute Catholics

February 13, 2024 Catholic News Agency 1
Hong Kong.Hong Kong media tycoon and founder of Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai Chee Ying arrives at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court, May 18, 2020. / Credit: Yung Chi Wai Derek/Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Feb 13, 2024 / 16:15 pm (CNA).

A religious freedom advocate from Hong Kong is warning that proposed legislation could further restrict religious liberty and lead to the persecution of the Catholic Church and other Christians. 

Frances Hui, a Hong Kong native who has political asylum in the United States, expressed concern about the possible enactment of the controversial proposal Article 23, which would expand a 2020 national security law. She made these comments during a Hudson Institute panel discussion on “The Repression of Hong Kong and Heroism of Jimmy Lai.”

Lai, a pro-democracy journalist and convert to Catholicism, was arrested on several charges under Hong Kong’s 2020 national security law and could face life in prison. His newspaper, Apple Daily, frequently published material critical of the Chinese Communist Party. Although the Chinese government charged him with colluding with foreign forces, critics of the prosecution claim that he — and hundreds of other political and religious dissidents — were arrested for their activism. 

If enacted, Article 23 would expand the law to bolster the government’s crackdown on political dissidents, which has been ongoing for more than three and a half years.

The change would add new offenses, including a prohibition on external interference in Hong Kong, a prohibition on supporting external intelligence organizations, and a prohibition on electronic and computer activities without lawful authority that endangers national security, along with a prohibition on general sabotage activities, according to the Hong Kong Free Press

Hui, who serves as the policy and advocacy coordinator at the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, said during the panel that the legislation would “target foreign organizations [and] their activities in Hong Kong,” which could be used against foreign Christian missionaries and Hong Kong Catholic Church communications with the Vatican.

“A lot of the small- to medium-scale church groups, the Catholic Church, and foreign missionaries would all be affected,” Hui said. 

“We don’t know how they’re going to use this law to go against religious groups, but having this law passed and imposed in Hong Kong would be a great threat to religious groups in Hong Kong,” she added. “They are subject to legal prosecution. … The Catholic Church in Hong Kong … might have to stop their communication with the Vatican because it’s a foreign state.” 

In such a scenario, Hui warned that the Catholic Church in Hong Kong could be forced to join the Catholic Patriotic Association, which the communist government established in 1957 to exert government control of Catholic churches in mainland China.

“We don’t know how they’re going to use this because it’s another vaguely written law, but … if they don’t like what you’re doing and they have targeted you, they have the law at their disposal to use that to threaten you and put you in jail,” Hui said.

The legislation was first proposed more than 20 years ago in 2002, but the effort was rejected after widespread backlash from the people of Hong Kong, journalist associations, and Western governments. The effort, however, was revived by Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu in 2022. On Jan. 30, Lee began a one-month consultation period on the proposal. 

“I think this is something the world and the American government should pay attention to and [should] speak up against it,” Hui said.

Nearly 300 people in Hong Kong, including Lai, have been arrested since the government updated the national security law in 2020. Critics believe this is a crackdown on free speech and political opposition. 

“The biggest goal of [the national security law] is to stifle dissidents,” Hui said. “It has destroyed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press. It’s a very vaguely written law that pretty much applies to the whole civil society.” 

The United States Congressional Executive Commission on China has encouraged President Joe Biden’s administration to issue sanctions against the judges and prosecutors involved in Lai’s case and similar cases.

Member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board William McGurn, who is Lai’s godfather and has known him for decades, said during the panel that he believes Lai would also want people to not forget “the other people locked up that don’t have his name recognition or friendliness with Western reporters and politicians.” 

“I think … he stayed in Hong Kong to be with them to choose sides,” McGurn said. “Same with Cardinal [Joseph] Zen … [who] was not prosecuted under the national security charges [but] was on these other charges of organizing a group without official regulatory permission.” 

In November 2022, Zen was convicted on charges of failing to register a fund that helped pay for the legal fees and medical treatments of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. He has appealed that conviction.

The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation published a report on Jan. 30 that found that religious freedom is “deteriorating” in the city amid a “hostile takeover” from the Chinese Communist Party. 

According to the report, Catholic and other Christian groups have faced accusations of supporting “violent protests” and colluding with “foreign organizations” under the 2020 national security law.

In addition to persecuting Christians, critics have accused the Chinese Communist Party of persecuting Uyghur Muslims and followers of Falun Gong, a religious and political movement.

[…]

No Picture
News Briefs

Nigerian Christians are being martyred — here’s how it’s affecting seminary formation

January 26, 2024 Catholic News Agency 0
Seminarians at Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Nigeria’s Kaduna state where four students were kidnapped and one, Michael Nnadi, was killed in 2020. / Credit: Good Shepherd Major Seminary Kaduna/ Facebook

ACI Africa, Jan 26, 2024 / 11:40 am (CNA).

Last year, 2023, was a difficult year for Brother Peter Olarewaju, a postulant at the Benedictine monastery in Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese who was kidnapped alongside two others at the monastery. Olarewaju underwent different kinds of torture and witnessed the murder of his companion, Brother Godwin Eze.

After his release, Olarewaju said his kidnapping was a blessing, as it had strengthened his faith. He even said that he is now prepared to die for his faith.

“I am prepared to die a martyr in this dangerous country. I am ready any moment to die for Jesus. I feel this very strongly,” Olarewaju said in an interview with ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, on Nov. 26, 2023, days after he was set free by suspected Fulani kidnappers.

The late Brother Godwin Eze who was kidnapped from the Benedictine monastery in Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese and murdered by his kidnappers in October 2023. Credit: Benedictine monastery, Eruku
The late Brother Godwin Eze who was kidnapped from the Benedictine monastery in Nigeria’s Ilorin Diocese and murdered by his kidnappers in October 2023. Credit: Benedictine monastery, Eruku

The monk’s testimony is not an isolated case in Nigeria, where kidnapping from seminaries, monasteries, and other places of religious formation has been on the rise. While some victims of the kidnappings have been killed, those who survived the ordeal have shared that they have come back stronger — and ready to die for their faith.

Seminarian Melchior Maharini, a Tanzanian who was kidnapped alongside a priest from the Missionaries of Africa community in the Diocese of Minna in August 2023, said the suffering he endured during the three weeks he was held captive strengthened his faith. “I felt my faith grow stronger. I accepted my situation and surrendered everything to God,” he told ACI Africa on Sept. 1, 2023.

Father Paul Sanogo (left) and Seminarian Melchior Maharini (right) were kidnapped from their community of Missionaries of Africa in Nigeria’s Diocese of Minna. Credit: Vatican Media
Father Paul Sanogo (left) and Seminarian Melchior Maharini (right) were kidnapped from their community of Missionaries of Africa in Nigeria’s Diocese of Minna. Credit: Vatican Media

Many other seminarians in Nigeria have been kidnapped by Boko Haram militants, Fulani herdsmen, and other bandit groups operating in Africa’s most populous nation. 

In August 2023, seminarian David Igba told ACI Africa that he stared death in the face when a car in which he was traveling on his way to the market in Makurdi was sprayed with bullets by Fulani herdsmen.

Seminarian Na'aman Danlami died when the Fulanis attacked St. Raphael Fadan Kamantan Parish on the night of Sept. 7, 2023. Credit: Photo courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need
Seminarian Na’aman Danlami died when the Fulanis attacked St. Raphael Fadan Kamantan Parish on the night of Sept. 7, 2023. Credit: Photo courtesy of Aid to the Church in Need

In September 2023, seminarian Na’aman Danlami was burned alive in a botched kidnapping incident in the Diocese of Kafanchan. A few days earlier, another seminarian, Ezekiel Nuhu, from the Archdiocese of Abuja, who had gone to spend his holidays in Southern Kaduna, was kidnapped. 

Two years prior, in October 2021, Christ the King Major Seminary of Kafanchan Diocese was attacked and three seminarians were kidnapped.

Seminarian David Igba during a pastoral visit at Scared Heart Udei of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi. Credit: David Igba
Seminarian David Igba during a pastoral visit at Scared Heart Udei of the Catholic Diocese of Makurdi. Credit: David Igba

In one attack that attracted global condemnation in 2020, seminarian Michael Nnadi was brutally murdered after he was kidnapped alongside three others from Good Shepherd Major Seminary in the Diocese of Kaduna. Those behind the kidnapping confessed that they killed Nnadi because he would not stop preaching to them, fearlessly calling them to conversion. 

After Nnadi’s murder, his companions who survived the kidnapping proceeded to St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos in Nigeria’s Plateau state, where they courageously continued with their formation.

The tomb of seminarian Michael Nnadi, who was brutally murdered after he was kidnapped alongside three others from the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in the Catholic Diocese of Kaduna in 2020. Credit: Father Samuel Kanta Sakaba, rector of a Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna
The tomb of seminarian Michael Nnadi, who was brutally murdered after he was kidnapped alongside three others from the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in the Catholic Diocese of Kaduna in 2020. Credit: Father Samuel Kanta Sakaba, rector of a Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna

As Christian persecution rages in Nigeria, seminary instructors in the country have shared with ACI Africa that there is an emerging spirituality in Nigerian seminaries that many may find difficult to grasp: the spirituality of martyrdom. 

They say that in Nigeria, those who embark on priestly formation are continuously being made to understand that their calling now entails being ready to defend the faith to the point of death. More than ever before, the seminarians are being reminded that they should be ready to face persecution, including the possibility of being kidnapped and even killed.

Father Peter Hassan, rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Jos, Plateau state, said that seminaries, just like the wider Nigerian society, have come to terms with “the imminence of death” for being Christian. 

Father Peter Hassan, rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Nigeria, walks with an unnamed companion. Credit: Father Peter Hassan
Father Peter Hassan, rector of St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Nigeria, walks with an unnamed companion. Credit: Father Peter Hassan

“Nigerian Christians have been victims of violence of apocalyptic proportions for nearly half a century. I can say that we have learned to accept the reality of imminent death,” Hassan said in a Jan. 12 interview with ACI Africa.

He added: “Nevertheless, it is quite inspiring and comforting to see the many young men who are still ready to embrace a life that will certainly turn them into critically endangered species. Yet these same young men are willing to preach the gospel of peace and embrace the culture of dialogue for peaceful coexistence.”

Shortly after Nnadi’s kidnapping and killing, St. Augustine Major Seminary opened its doors to the three seminarians who survived the kidnapping.

Hassan told ACI Africa that the presence of the three former students of Good Shepherd Major Seminary was “a blessing” to the community of St. Augustine Major Seminary.

“Their presence in our seminary was a blessing to our seminarians, a wake-up call to the grim reality that not even the very young are spared by those mindless murderers,” Hassan said.

Back at Good Shepherd, seminarians have remained resilient, enrolling in large numbers even after the 2020 kidnapping and Nnadi’s murder.

Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna, Nigeria. Credit: Father Samuel Kanta Sakaba, rector of a Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna
Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna, Nigeria. Credit: Father Samuel Kanta Sakaba, rector of a Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna

In an interview with ACI Africa, Father Samuel Kanta Sakaba, the rector of Good Shepherd Major Seminary, said that instructors at the Catholic institution, which has a current enrollment of 265 seminarians, make it clear that being a priest in Nigeria presents the seminarians with the danger of being kidnapped or killed.

ACI Africa asked Sakaba whether or not the instructors discuss with the seminarians the risks they face, including that of being kidnapped, or even killed, to which the priest responded: “Yes, as formators, we have the duty to take our seminarians through practical experiences — both academic, spiritual, and physical experiences. We share this reality of persecution with them, but for them to understand, we connect the reality of Christian persecution in Nigeria to the experiences of Jesus. This way, we feel that it would be easier for them to not only have the strength to face what they are facing but to also see meaning in their suffering.”

“Suffering is only meaningful if it is linked with the pain of Jesus,” the priest said. “The prophet Isaiah reminds us that ‘by his wounds, we are healed.’ Jesus also teaches us that unless the grain of wheat falls on the ground and dies, it will remain a single grain, but that it is only when it falls and dies that it yields a rich harvest. Teachings such as these are the ones that deepen our resilience in the face of persecution.”

Seminarians and their instructors at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Nigeria. Credit: Father Peter Hassan
Seminarians and their instructors at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Nigeria. Credit: Father Peter Hassan

Sakaba spoke of the joy of those who look forward to “going back to God in a holy way.” 

“Whatever happens, we will all go back to God. How joyful it is to go back to God in a holy way, in a way of sacrifice.” he said. “This holiness is accepting this cross, this pain. Jesus accepted the pain of Calvary, and that led him to his resurrection. Persecution purifies the individual for them to become the finished product for God. I believe that these attacks are God’s project, and no human being can stop God’s work.”

However, the rector clarified that those who enroll at the seminary do not go out seeking danger.

“People here don’t go out putting themselves in situations of risk,” he said. “But when situations such as these happen, the teachings of Jesus and his persecution give us courage to face whatever may come our way.”

Sakaba said that although priestly formation in Nigeria is embracing the “spirituality of martyrdom,” persecution in the West African country presents “a difficult reality.”

“It is difficult to get used to pain. It is difficult to get used to the issues of death … to get familiar with death,” he said. “No one chooses to go into danger just because other people are suffering; it is not part of our nature. But in a situation where you seem not to have an alternative, the grace of God kicks in to strengthen you to face the particular situation.” 

Sakaba said that since the 2020 attack at Good Shepherd Major Seminary, the institution has had an air of uncertainty. He said that some of the kidnappers who were arrested in the incident have been released, a situation he said has plunged the major seminary into “fear of the unknown.”

“It hasn’t been easy for us since the release,” Sabaka told ACI Africa. “The community was thrown into confusion because of the unknown. We don’t know what will happen next. We don’t know when they will come next or what they will do to us. We don’t know who will be taken next.”

Seminarians at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Plateau state, Nigeria, during a Marian procession. Credit: Father Peter Hassan
Seminarians at St. Augustine Major Seminary in Jos, Plateau state, Nigeria, during a Marian procession. Credit: Father Peter Hassan

In the face of that, however, Sabaka said the resilience of the seminary community has been admirable. “God has been supporting, encouraging, and leading us. His grace assisted us to continue to practice our faith,” he said.

The jihadist attacks, which continue unabated in communities surrounding the seminary, do not make the situation easier.

Church at the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna, Nigeria. Credit: Father Samuel Kanta Sakaba, rector of Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna
Church at the Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna, Nigeria. Credit: Father Samuel Kanta Sakaba, rector of Good Shepherd Major Seminary in Kaduna

“Every attack that happens outside our community reminds us of our own 2020 experience. We are shocked, and although we remain deeply wounded, we believe that God has been leading us,” he said.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

[…]

The Dispatch

Thousands of Christians in Nigeria rally to demand action after Christmas massacres

January 9, 2024 Catholic News Agency 3
Catholic Archbishop Matthew Ishaya Audu of Jos marches alongside evangelical leader Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam in front of the Plateau state governor’s office building in Jos, Nigeria, Jan. 8, 2024. / Credit: Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam, photo by Plateau State Government Media Team.

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 9, 2024 / 15:30 pm (CNA).

Thousands of Christians rallied yesterday in front of the governor’s office in Nigeria’s Plateau state to demand action after more than 200 were killed in a series of Christmas massacres.

The attacks, which targeted Christian villages beginning Dec. 23 and continuing through Christmas day, left Christian communities in Nigeria’s Plateau state reeling. Photos obtained by CNA after the attack showed villagers burying their slain relatives and loved ones in mass graves.

According to Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam, an evangelical leader who helped to organize the rally, the attacks also left 15,000 people displaced without homes.

Among the demands being made by the protestors, Para-Mallam said that they asked for an “urgent humanitarian relief material response by the state and federal government” and for the arrest of the perpetrators of the Christmas massacre, which he called a “genocidal,” “terrorist” attack.

Thousands of Christians peacefully and prayerfully march to a rally in front of the Nigerian Plateau state governor's office building in protest of the 2023 Christmas massacre that left over 200 Christian Nigerians dead, Jan. 8, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam, photo by Plateau State Government Media Team.
Thousands of Christians peacefully and prayerfully march to a rally in front of the Nigerian Plateau state governor’s office building in protest of the 2023 Christmas massacre that left over 200 Christian Nigerians dead, Jan. 8, 2024. Credit: Photo courtesy of Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam, photo by Plateau State Government Media Team.

The attack marks the latest instance of terrorists targeting Christian Nigerians on significant Christian feast days. In 2022, on Pentecost Sunday, 39 Catholic worshippers were killed at the St. Francis Xavier Owo Catholic Parish in Ondo Diocese.

Religious freedom advocates believe that militant Muslim Fulani herdsmen were responsible for the Christmas attacks. In Nigeria as a whole, at least 60,000 Christians have been killed in the past two decades. An estimated 3,462 Christians were killed in Nigeria in the first 200 days of 2021, or 17 per day, according to a new study.

Due to continued attacks, Nigeria is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian, according to a 2023 report by the advocacy group International Christian Concern.

Para-Mallam told CNA that Nigeria’s middle belt region, of which Plateau state is a part, has “suffered sustained attacks for over a decade now with destruction of lives and properties.”

The thousands of protestors at the rally, he said, were “mournful, angry, but surprisingly joyful.”

Their “central objective,” he explained, was “to ask for an end to the killings not just in Plateau but Nigeria and seek justice for the people.”

“Above all, it was very peaceful and prayerful,” he added. “The old, the young all together felt that we had to do what we had to do to get our message across.”

According to Para-Mallam, the crowd numbered about 5,000 and included both Catholics and Protestants. Together, he said, they peacefully and prayerfully marched, ending in front of the governor’s office building in the city of Jos. Archbishop Matthew Ishaya Audu of Jos and several Catholic priests also took part in the march and rally, according to Para-Mallam.

The demonstration was "mournful, angry, and surprisingly joyful," according to Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam. Credit: Photos by Nigerian multimedia journalist Jœy Shèkwônúzhïbó, used with permission.
The demonstration was “mournful, angry, and surprisingly joyful,” according to Rev. Dr. Gideon Para-Mallam. Credit: Photos by Nigerian multimedia journalist Jœy Shèkwônúzhïbó, used with permission.

The rally was organized with the help of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), a coalition of Nigerian Christian Churches and groups that includes the Catholic Church in Nigeria. 

Para-Mallam said the purpose of the demonstration was to “mourn in solidarity” with the devastated communities as well as to show them that the Church “cares” and “identify with them in the moment of suffering and mourning.”

A secondary purpose for the rally, Para-Mallam said, was to “get the Church on the Plateau to unite and to speak with one voice around the issues of social justice” and to “create awareness nationally and globally about the Christmas season attack.”

Para-Mallam said that Plateau’s governor, Caleb Mutfwang, addressed the crowds at the rally and was “sympathetic and understanding and spoke well on the pains of his people.”

Mutfwang condemned the attacks shortly after they occurred in a Dec. 26 statement in which he said: “This has indeed been a gory Christmas for us.” 

“He promised to relay our concerns to the president and committed to work with the president to end the killings in the Plateau state,” Para-Mallam said. 

Despite the governor and president voicing their support for the impacted communities, several religious freedom advocates have been critical of the lack of government response to the growing terrorist attacks. 

Maria Lozano, a representative for the papal relief group Aid to the Church in Need, told CNA after the attacks that tangible government support was largely absent after the Christmas massacre and that a “lack of response from the government” over the years has worsened the situation in the region. The absence of government support, Lozano said, has forced Christian churches to take on the “primary responsibility of providing assistance.” 

Para-Mallam asked for Christians outside of Nigeria to help by offering prayer, advocacy, and humanitarian intervention. 

“We also want fellow believers to encourage policymakers to encourage the Nigerian government to do more to end the killings in general and particularly those targeted at Christians,” he said. 

For several years now, religious freedom advocates have criticized the U.S. government for failing to include Nigeria in the State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list, which some consider to be America’s most effective tool to encourage foreign governments to address the persecutions in their countries. 

“There is no justification as to why the State Department did not designate Nigeria or India as a Country of Particular Concern,” said U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom chair Abraham Cooper and vice chair Frederick Davie in a Jan. 4 statement.

Cooper and Davie mentioned the Christmas massacre as “just the latest example of deadly violence against religious communities in Nigeria.”

Speaking on “EWTN News Nightly” on Monday, Davie said that the decision to leave Nigeria off the list was “particularly” concerning and a “huge mistake.” 

Davie told EWTN that “there are some who are saying that the government [of Nigeria] if it is not actively participating in some of this religious persecution is actually standing by and not doing what it can to prevent it.”

“We just believe,” Davie explained, “that by designating Nigeria a Country of Particular Concern, the United States puts itself in a position to work more closely with the government of Nigeria to address some of those fundamental security issues that are going unattended to.”

Despite this, the State Department has left Nigeria off the Countries of Particular Concern list since 2021.

[…]