RELIGIOUS leaders came out in support of overstaying mainlanders exercising their rights on the ninth day of their marathon protest at Central yesterday. More than 200 protesters were received by the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and St John's Cathedral in Central after marching from the Central Government Offices, where they have been staging their sit-in. In a joint statement issued by five Christian groups, they said they respected the mainlanders' right to apply for legal aid and called on the SAR to show more understanding. 'Although we have different opinions over whether they should stay while applying to come, we agree they can exercise whatever rights are granted to them by the courts,' the statement said. 'Hong Kong people should learn to accept this rather than to care just about themselves.' Protesters handed over a letter calling for support from the religious groups to Hong Kong Catholic Diocese chancellor, Father Lawrence Lee Len, who promised to convey their message to Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung. Earlier in the day, the group had marched to the Hong Kong Council for Social Service to present a letter asking for support from the welfare sector. The protesters are now threatening to escalate their actions if the Government fails to release the 11 overstayers from Victoria Prison by tomorrow. Father Franco Mella, a Catholic priest and human rights activist who has been helping the protesters, is encouraging their families to join the rally tomorrow. The group, which has pledged to carry on the protest through the Lunar New Year, have received police permission to continue their actions until Thursday. So far, 18 people have been granted legal aid to seek judicial review of the Government's decision to deport them to the mainland until their settlement is approved. Three counter-protesters who clashed with the mainlanders on Wednesday failed to show up, despite vowing to demonstrate yesterday.