More than 200 Catholics have taken part in an all-night prayer vigil in Hong Kong to oppose the proposed deal between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops.
The participants gathered into the hall of the St. Bonaventure church in a residential neighborhood on Monday to raise their concerns about the agreement, which Vatican officials have said could be signed in the next few months.
As part of the protest, the vigil participants also issued an open letter warning of dire consequences for the Catholics in China. As the Catholics prayed in Hong Kong, the number of signatories of the online petition had risen from 20 to nearly 700 within hours.
Catholics in China are divided between the state-backed Catholic Patriotic Association, where bishops are appointed by the government, and the "underground" church, where the bishops are ordained by the pope.
The China-Vatican agreement has drawn stiff oppositions from many in the global church, some of whom have asserted that the Vatican would be selling out Catholics who had remained faithful to the pope throughout the years of persecution.
The petition asks bishops' conferences across the world to support the halt to the proposed agreement and requests for a global joint signature in the hope that the Holy See would reconsider the deal and stop making an "irreversible and regrettable" mistake.
"We are a group of Catholics. Recently there have been news reports indicating that the Holy See and the government of the People's Republic of China will soon reach an agreement over the issue of bishop appointments as well as recognition of seven illicit 'bishops,'" the petition read, according to UCA News.
"We are deeply shocked and disappointed. With our love and allegiance to the Holy Mother Church, we hope you and the bishops' conferences would pay attention to such a development," it continued.
The petition pointed out that the seven illicit were not appointed by the pope, adding that they have not gained the trust of faithful Catholics and they have never repented publicly.
"If they were to be recognized as legitimate, the faithful in greater China would be plunged into confusion and pain, and a schism would be created in the church in China," it went on to say.
The letter also stressed that any agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese government must be grounded in an end to religious persecution in China. Due to years of persecution of underground clergymen, many Chinese Catholics found it hard to accept that two underground bishops would have to make way for state-backed bishops to facilitate the agreement.
An unnamed Hong Kong clergyman who participated in the vigil has said that the Catholics he met during his trip to China last week told him they found the news of an impending agreement "ridiculous" and "unbelievable."