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The Diocese of Hong Kong has canceled its Tiananmen Square Massacre memorial for the first time ever.

The diocese asked those wishing to memorialize the victims of the brutal 1989 massacre to instead hold private services or pray in small groups, according to the South China Morning Post. The cancellation comes after the arrest of Hong Kong’s most prominent Catholic clergyman, Cardinal Joseph Zen.

“According to the Catholic faith, we can commemorate the deceased in different ways, holding a Mass is of course one way,” the diocese said. “But just praying for the deceased in private or in small groups will also be very meaningful.” 


“Concerning Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, appeared today (24th May) before West Kowloon Court to answer charges of failing to register a fund, the Cardinal pleaded not guilty,” the Hong Kong Diocese wrote in a press release after Zen appeared in court. “The Diocese will closely monitor the development of the incident. Cardinal Zen is always in our prayers and we invite all to pray for the Church!”

Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong, appeared in court Tuesday after his unceremonious arrest by Chinese Communist Party officials.

The 90-year-old cardinal, who was arrested with four other pro-democracy advocates, was a trustee of a relief fund used to bail out protesters and pay legal fees, according to Catholic News Agency. The five arrestees are charged with not registering the charity with the government.

All five have submitted pleas of not guilty.

For years, China has quashed any discussion on the mainland of its bloody 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, nearly erasing what happened from the collective consciousness. The semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and nearby Macao were for years the last places on Chinese soil allowed to publicly mark the events of June 4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire on student-led protesters in a crackdown that left hundreds, if not thousands, dead.

Students erect a statue called the Goddess of Democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989.
(Jacques Langevin/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

Zen is at the epicenter of the Catholic Church‘s fight for survival in China. The nation has rolled out intense censures on religious expression, including Christianity, which it regulates through state-sponsored “patriotic associations.” Chinese citizens who wish to worship at a Catholic Church (or any other house of worship) are required to register with an aggressively pro-CCP governing body for their faith. These organizations often force churches to teach counter to their dogma, and often insert nationalistic propaganda into worship. This regulation has forced a schism in the Chinese Catholic Church – the “official” and CCP-approved ministry, and the clandestine, illegal “underground church.”

Zen has served as an unofficial spokesman for the underground Catholic community, which has seen little support or protection from the Chinese government. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) explicitly condemns the underground church for its affiliation and loyalty to a foreign power – the worldwide Catholic communion.


Cardinal Joseph Zen, second from left, joins his colleagues at the Episcopal Ordination of the Most Reverend Stephen Chow in Hong Kong's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 4, 2021. (Bertha Wang/AFP via Getty Images)

Cardinal Joseph Zen, second from left, joins his colleagues at the Episcopal Ordination of the Most Reverend Stephen Chow in Hong Kong’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 4, 2021. (Bertha Wang/AFP via Getty Images)

Threats of government-sanctioned violence and arrest have slowly crippled Hong Kong residents’ ability to protest communist policies. The Chinese Communist Party has shut down multiple memorials and gatherings in honor of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, including art projects.

A monument at a Hong Kong university that was the best-known public remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Chinese soil was removed in December 2021, wiping out the city’s last place of public commemoration of the bloody 1989 crackdown. 

The 26-foot Pillar of Shame, which depicts 50 torn and twisted bodies piled on top of each other, was made by Danish sculptor Jens Galschioet to symbolize the lives lost during the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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