Hong Kong, tear gas, resourceful students, Bishop Ha, and Friday abstinence


With all the political excitement in the UK at the moment, it is important for us not to forget those in other parts of the world whose political turmoil has a more physical and menacing manifestation.

Innovative tactics

It is impressive to see the resourcefulness of the protesters in Hong Kong as they have come up with effective home-grown tactics for dealing with tear gas canisters when they are continuing to bellow out their incapacitating fumes. A traffic cone placed over the top will contain the smoke to the extent that it goes upwards instead of spreading laterally. Then water poured down into the cone will dampen the gas completely. Here is the video demonstration:
Another chap was in a viral video going up to a canister with a vacuum flask, shaking it up and then emptying the neutralised contents. After much speculation that he was using liquid nitrogen (there would have been billowing clouds of gas) the chap himself had contacted someone to let them post out on twitter that the flask contained mud. Being wet, it took care of the contents of the tear gas canister.
The new way Hong Kong protesters deal with tear gas

The protesters have been learning rapidly how to respond to various tactics, and their courage and ingenuity are worthy of admiration. They are also using laser pointers to prevent the facial recognition cameras from getting usable images, and they have learnt to avoid using their own public transport cards so that their movements cannot be tracked by the security forces. None of that is news, but one of the Hong Kong Bishops has newly proposed an old call to action.

A call from Hong Kong, to prayer and fasting

Looking at the footage of the protests, we should share the concern of Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing for the safety of the young protesters. The Bishop has urged Catholics to pray and fast for peace, while also speaking up against injustice and corruption. He said:
“It’s been a tradition for us to fast on Fridays. However, this tradition somehow was abolished. With fasting and prayers, we hope that we can help ourselves to strengthen our mind and soul to fight evil thoughts. Then, we would be in a better position to help fellow Hongkongers.”
Young Catholics have taken part in the demonstrations and have tried to contribute to a peaceful atmosphere in solidarity with their friends. Indeed, the leading protesters, Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong, who have been imprisoned for their participation, have spoken unashamedly of their Christian faith and have inspired others by their courage. (See the report by Church Militant)

The initiative of Bishop Ha to encourage fasting and prayer is typical of the conciliatory approach of the Church in such a volatile situation in the face of brute injustice. For a moving summary of his teaching and encouragement in the face the the hostility that his beloved young people have faced, see Bishop Joseph Ha cried for the youth of Hong Kong.

A moving story of loyal obedience

I remember many years ago reading of a Chinese bishop who had been in prison for many years for his opposition to the communist regime. When he was finally released, the religious house that he went to served him a meal that included meat, even though it was a Friday. The holy Bishop protested, and was told that the law on abstinence was no longer in force in China. Despite his inadequate diet in prison, the Bishop had abstained from meat every Friday while he had been incarcerated.

This heartrending story came to my attention long before ordinary homes had a connection to the internet, and I have no way to track down the source of it. It would be great to see a report of the original story.

Solidarity with Honkongers

Of course we have now had decades of discussion about Friday abstinence, and in England and Wales, our bishops took the commendable decision to reinstate Friday abstinence. To be accurate, abstinence from meat on Friday has remained the universal law of the Church. What changed was that the following canon made it possible for the conference of bishops to substitute other forms of penance:
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
In the wearily familiar pattern of laxity disguised as noble reform, the Church in most places adopted this alternative to abstinence, but Friday did not become a day of new penances and acts of charity. All that happened was that everyone accepted, as Bishop Ha quite accurately summarises, "the tradition was somehow abolished."

May I commend to you the bishop's excellent “Friday Fasting” movement. If you live in a country where abstinence is the law, keep it conscientiously and perhaps offer an extra prayer for Hong Kong. If you would like a particular suggestion, mine would be the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. (Latin and English parallel texts.)

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