Hong Kong protesters urge Chinese bishop's release

A group of Catholics demonstrated in Hong Kong on Wednesday to demand the release of a newly ordained Chinese bishop, who they said was being held against his will.

Around a dozen protesters shouted slogans, sang songs and prayed outside Beijing's representative office in the southern city to call on Chinese authorities to free Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin.

"We protest here because we feel very angry about Bishop Ma being detained and also surrounded by public security officers," said Patrick Poon, a member of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese.

"We call for the Chinese government to release him immediately and also to respect his willingness not to join the Catholic Patriotic Association anymore."

Ma has not been seen in public since shortly after his ordination mass on Saturday when he announced to a packed cathedral in Shanghai he was resigning his senior position in the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

He was taken away by religious officials and is staying at Sheshan seminary on the outskirts of Shanghai, Catholic media reported quoting local sources. He did not attend his first mass as bishop on Sunday.

Ordained with the approval of both the Vatican and Beijing, Ma was the first mainland bishop to drop his membership of the state-run Catholic body, which supervises the country's Catholics on behalf of the communist authorities.

"We hope that we can get the attention of the public and the Catholic Church here in Hong Kong as well as the Vatican, so that they can strengthen their position about Bishop Ma's situation," Poon said.

Diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican broke down in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan, a rival to the communist regime in China.

Although relations between Beijing and the Vatican have improved in recent years as the Chinese Catholic population has grown, they remain at odds over which side has the authority to ordain priests.

Chinese priests Zhang Xisheng and Zhao Hongchun were taken into custody on July 5 for opposing the ordination of a bishop who lacked the Vatican's consent. They were released the following day.

The state Church has ordained more than 190 bishops, according to official figures.

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