Church faith in forum
A HONG KONG Lutheran spokesman was optimistic last night that a church celebration planned for 1997 would go ahead despite objections from China.
Lam Tak-ho of the Lutheran Theological Seminary said he was not concerned about religious freedom after the handover.
Mr Lam, the chairman of the local preparation committee for the Lutheran World Federation's 50th anniversary assembly, said China was acting with 'good intentions' when it said the meeting should be postponed.
'The Chinese Government has all along welcomed the holding of the assembly, but hopes such an important event will be held smoothly. We still hope that it can be held in Hong Kong,' he said.
Less than a fortnight ago, the federation's general secretary, Dr Ishmael Noko, received a letter from four Hong Kong church members saying that they had received 'verbal advice' from Xinhua (the New China News Agency) that the assembly should be deferred, because it was too close to the handover.
There are about 56 million Lutheran church followers in the world, with 40,000 in the territory.
More than 2,000 people including 400-500 church representatives and their families were expected to attend the assembly, due to be held at the Convention and Exhibition Centre from July 8-16 next year.
Despite a preference that the assembly be held in October or November Mr Lam said the federation had fixed the meeting for July to match with the timetables of various Lutheran church leaders and the availability of the venue.
The committee has also booked hotel rooms for about 1,200 people.
The chairman of Justice and the Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, Chan Siu-chiang, said: 'It's unreasonable for the Chinese Government to manhandle a religious event and interfere with religious freedom by asking the organisation to seek its approval first.
'There is clearly no conflict between the handover celebrations and a purely religious assembly,' she said.
But Sun Po-loi a spokesman for Buddhist laymans' organisation, Soka Gakkai International, said there was no need to worry that religious freedom would be compromised after 1997.