About 1,200 people celebrated the canonisation of 120 Chinese and foreign saints yesterday, despite Beijing's appeal to keep such ceremonies low key. The Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Caine Road was officiated by Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung and attended by 120 priests. The 87 Chinese martyrs and 33 foreign missionaries were canonised by Pope John Paul on October 1. They were killed between 1648 and 1930, most during the Boxer Rebellion. Beijing denounced the Vatican ceremony, saying most of those honoured deserved to die and that the event was a gross insult to China, especially as it coincided with National Day. Last month, Beijing's Liaison Office relayed to the local diocese the central Government's message that the celebration of the canonisation should be held in a low-key manner. Yesterday, the office's deputy director, Zheng Guoxiong, said canonisation was not only a religious matter but also an historical problem. He said he believed more Hong Kong people would gradually understand the stance of the central Government. But Hong Kong Auxiliary Bishop John Tong Hon said the ceremony was held in accordance with the diocese's practice. He said he was not worried about whether Beijing considered it appropriate as religious freedom was protected in the Basic Law. The archivist at the Hong Kong Catholic Diocesan Archives, Father Louis Ha, said memorial services for the 120 saints would be held every year after the Vatican had decided on a date as a feast day for the martyrs. During the Mass yesterday, the relics of 14 of the martyrs were placed on an altar at the cathedral as worshippers sang and prayed in memory of those killed. Father Francis Li, whose uncle and grandfather were among the martyrs, shared his family's stories during the Mass and gave thanks for Beijing's recent criticism. 'We are happy the Chinese Government gave so much publicity to the canonisations at the beginning of this month in all the mass media,' he said. 'This caused everyone in Hong Kong, and in the whole world, to become aware that the Catholic Church was holding a canonisation ceremony.' Among those at the Mass were media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and Democratic Party leader Martin Lee Chu-ming. Both Mr Lai and Mr Lee said the canonisation was something to celebrate. Mr Lee said: 'It's something to be happy about. No country has had so many martyrs being canonised before. China has set a precedent with 120 martyrs canonised in one day. 'If one day China wins 120 gold medals at the Olympics, imagine how happy it would be. This is an even more important occasion . . . so this is not high-key at all.' Mr Lee said Beijing had tried to interfere with religious freedom in Hong Kong and the local diocese had handled the issue well. The latest issue of the weekly Catholic newspaper the Sunday Examiner said Catholics in Hong Kong had expressed support and respect for their Coadjutor bishop's defence of the canonisation. It was Bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun who disclosed Beijing's intervention. Bishop Zen said: 'I am just speaking the truth and I have spoken out for both the open and underground church.' The bishop condemned as ruthless the methods used by Chinese authorities to force church people to sign statements against the Holy See. He said the Hong Kong church's role as a 'bridge church' had not changed. Precious Blood Sister Beatrice Leung Kit-fun, associate professor at Lingnan University's Department of Politics and Sociology, said the local church was fortunate Bishop Zen was so outspoken. 'China whispered to him, but he revealed it from the roof-top,' she said. One of the Catholics at the Mass, Joseph Wong, said: 'I don't think we are qualified to be followers if we are scared of even attending the Mass.'