Catholics and non-Catholics from around the Lower Mainland rallied outside the Chinese consulate on Granville Street Vancouver June 16 in response to what they are calling a “grave and looming threat to human rights and freedom” in Hong Kong.

At issue is a controversial bill that would give government in Hong Kong the power to extradite suspected criminals to face trial in mainland China. Critics say this would erode free speech and religion in Hong Kong.

“We support our sister churches in Hong Kong and all Hong Kongers trying to keep their freedom,” said rally organizers Vancouver Christians for Love, Peace, and Justice in a press release.

The group estimated 550 people turned up at the Chinese consulate to protest the extradition bill.

On June 20 Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended but did not withdraw the bill.

The outdoor rally included speeches, Scripture readings, and prayer led by Father Richard Soo, SJ, of Eastern Catholic Church in Richmond, and Antony Law, a former pastor of the South Vancouver Pacific Grace Mennonite Brethren Church.

“We’re here to pray for Hong Kong because the people in Hong Kong are in great danger — the danger of having their civil freedoms, their human rights taken away from them,” Father Soo told the Vancouver Sun.

“Any Canadian tourist is in danger ... As long as you’re on the soil of Hong Kong they can come on the plane and take you away.”

The Vancouver Christians for Love, Peace, and Justice organization includes members of Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Mennonite Brethren, Mission Alliance, and non-denominational churches.

In a statement, they said: “We call on the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong police to respect the human rights of the people of Hong Kong; to support the people in their struggle for democracy and the rule of law; to protect demonstrators' rights; to protect freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and press freedom; and to listen and to dialogue with the churches, religious groups, and civil society in order to increase civil rights and preserve religious freedom.”

The extradition law has the potential to be very dangerous for Christians in Hong Kong, according to the U.S.-based non-profit International Christian Concern. “Many fear that suspects in Hong Kong, regardless of their nationalities, could be arrested secretly and sent to China without due process.”

That charity raised concerns that underground Christian churches could be particularly affected.

The proposed bill has led to dramatic protests of millions of people in the streets of Hong Kong.

“From videos, it appears that more than 90 percent of the masses were peaceful, while most of the rest were those on the front line pushed into action by batons and pepper spray raining down on them,” said Bill Chu, who moved from Hong Kong to the Vancouver area in 1974 and has been keeping a keen eye on current events.

“The Chinese Methodist Church in WanChai opened its doors to anyone seeking refuge; the inside looked like a war zone, with exhausted people lying around, people’s eyes being washed and blood being wiped away.”

Pastors lead prayer at the rally in front of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver June 16.