A Vatican official led a funeral mass on Saturday for Cardinal John Baptist Wu, the late leader of Hong Kong's Catholic diocese marking the first Vatican presence in Hong Kong since the former British colony reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. Both Wu and his successor have criticized Beijing's policy on religion.
Thousands of people including Hong Kong's second ranking official, chief secretary Donald Tsang, joined the funeral procession for Cardinal John Baptist Wu on Saturday.
Like many of Hong Kong's powerful and famous, Tsang is a practicing Catholic. While Buddhism and Taoism are the main religions, the Hong Kong Diocese estimates there are 371,000 Catholics here.
Pope John Paul II sent Cardinal Creszenzio Sepe to lead the funeral mass, the first Vatican official to visit the territory since it returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
"As the son of this great nation of China, His Eminence Cardinal Wu gave the feeling of reassurance, and his smile conveyed a message of hope and encouragement," Cardinal Sepe said.
Communist China broke with the Vatican in the 1950s and the Roman Catholic Church remains outlawed there.
Although Hong Kong is now a part of China, however, the territory's constitution guarantees a wide range of freedoms and civil liberties not granted on the mainland.
The late Cardinal Wu warned about new anti-subversion laws proposed by the Hong Kong administration at the behest of Beijing. He said the laws could erode freedoms of expression and religion in the territory.
His successor, Bishop Joseph Zen, is a vocal critic of Beijing's policy on religion and has been barred from visiting the mainland. Cardinal Wu lost his battle with diabetes and cancer on Monday. He led the Catholic diocese in the territory for 27 years.