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Hong Kong cardinal: Tiananmen massacre left ‘deep wound’

Hong Kong’s Cardinal Stephen Chow said that the Tiananmen Square massacre “left a deep wound,” in an article written ahead of the event’s 35th anniversary.

Cardinal Stephen Chow, pictured before the consistory of the creation of new cardinals at the Vatican on Sept. 30, 2023. © Mazur/

In a May 30 column in the Sunday Examiner, the Diocese of Hong Kong’s weekly newspaper, Chow reflected on what he called “the life-sapping event that took place 35 years ago in the capital city.” 


On June 4, 1989, Chinese communist authorities sent troops to crack down on pro-democracy protesters occupying Tiananmen Square in Beijing, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

The massacre is known as the June Fourth Incident in China, where discussion of the event is heavily censored. Chow did not use the words “Tiananmen Square” or “massacre” in the column, referring only to the “event” 35 years ago.

“What happened 35 years ago has left a deep wound in parts of our psyche, though it has been buried and scarred over,” wrote Chow, who was named Bishop of Hong Kong in 2021.

“Yet, it remains a sore spot that requires proper attention for healing. And I am praying for that closure to happen.” 

“Having said that, I understand that we must not wait but to move on. A healthy life should not be stuck in a dark space of unending sorrows and resentment.”

Chow, who was made a cardinal in 2023, recalled his memories of June 1989, which saw the repression of protests across mainland China and a groundswell of support for the protesters in Hong Kong.

He said he could not “forget what I saw and felt ever so deeply on that night and the following weeks.” 

“My faith, nonetheless, prompts me to forgive whoever and whatever,” the Jesuit cardinal commented. 

“Maybe it is through forgiveness that the different parties can move beyond finger pointing and the painful ‘I will never forgive’ mindset.” 

He added: “With forgiveness already available, reconciliation and healing may stand a better chance of becoming a reality.”

Following the 1989 massacre, the Hong Kong diocese held an annual memorial Mass on June 4 throughout the territory’s time as a British colony. 

After the handover of Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997, Hong Kong became the only Chinese territory where the massacre’s anniversary could be marked publicly, with an annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. But the tradition of public commemorations ended in 2022, amid a crackdown on civil liberties.

Hong Kong, now classed as a special administrative region of China, is home to around 392,000 Catholics out of a total population of more than 7 million. The territory’s Catholics include both prominent pro-democracy figures such as the imprisoned media mogul Jimmy Lai and Hong Kong’s hardline chief executive John Lee.

Apart from Lai, many pro-democracy politicians and journalists, including several prominent Catholics, have been jailed for various “crimes” related to free speech.

Last year, Bobo Yip, former chairwoman of the Diocese of Hong Kong’s Justice and Peace Commission, was also arrested on national security grounds, and the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, was arrested on national security charges before being convicted of failing to properly register a charity of which he was a patron.

The diocese has also come under pressure to ensure that Catholic priests and teachers in Catholic schools stay out of politics and promote “national values.”

At the time of his installation, Chow said that he had previously attended commemorative public gatherings in Hong Kong, including a prayer vigil to mark the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, which he called a formative event in his life.

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In a 2022 interview with the Italian monthly magazine Mondo e Missione, Chow recalled that he had joined the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International before 1989, but was no longer a member. 

The cardinal, who was born in British Hong Kong in 1959, said in the interview: “The 1989 incidents had affected me greatly. They put me in touch with my identity as a Chinese person. My personal story and that of the Chinese people were connected by that event.”

Since he was appointed Bishop of Hong Kong, Chow has emphasized the importance of reconciliation. He made a five-day visit to Beijing in 2023, meeting with senior Church officials. He made a second official trip to mainland China in April this year.

He has also called on local Catholics “to love our country and our Church at the same time,” while frankly acknowledging tensions and problems with state authorities and stressing that dialogue “is not about kowtowing.”

In his Sunday Examiner column, Chow reflected on God’s forgiveness.

“God’s unconditional love for us is overwhelmingly expressed through the passion and death of his only Son, even when we are living in a state of unconfessed sinfulness,” he wrote. 

“Thankfully, it is through this self-sacrificial act of love that we are aware of our need for God’s forgiveness. And with the resurrection of the Son, we can enjoy a new beginning.” 

“Precisely because God’s forgiveness does not require our repentance, we can also learn to proactively forgive. Even though to forgive does not mean to forget, it does offer a pre-condition for our inner freedom and a brighter future for all.” 

Chow ended his column with a prayer, which he invited readers to use. 

It said: “Oh, the Lord of history! In prayers I have walked with the victims and their families in the past 35 years;  With no lack of occasional reflections and fluctuating sadness that seems unending at times. Yet at the same time, I am holding fast to my hope in the risen Lord who has gone through death himself.”

“Now, I come before you in prayer. In faith and hope, I entrust you, Lord, with the country’s democratic development. You who are forever just and wise.  Let me put on your yoke and learn from you. That I may have a glimpse through your goodness and humility, the eternal desire of life.”

“Moving forward in love, supporting each other in addressing our contradictions, let us enjoy the beauty of trinitarian communion. Oh Lord, please guide us! Please walk with us, the people of China! Amen.”

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