Ambassador relates story of current political prisoner

By Lauren Hunter
Staff Writer

Franciscan University of Steubenville hosted a talk about Jimmy Lai, a current political prisoner in Hong Kong, on March 26 at 7 p.m. in the Gentile Gallery. 

There was an assortment of cookies and brownies available for attendees upon walking in, as well as free shirts and tote bags. Printed on the shirts was the phrase “Free Jimmy Lai, Free Speech, Free HK.” 

Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, the president of Franciscan University, opened the talk in prayer. He then briefly shared about his times in China before introducing the speakers of the night. 

Joseph Cella, the former U.S. ambassador to Fiji, spoke first and gave some background on Lai and his relationship with Lai. 

“Jimmy Lai is important to us as Catholics and Americans … he was born in mainland China just around the time of the Communist Revolution and had to flee as a boy,” said Cella. 

Cella explained that Lai worked in the garment district and rose to the level of managership, which eventually led to Lai starting his own clothing brand, Giradono. 

“He’s always been an advocate for freedom, free markets … The Tiananmen Square Massacre happened in 1989 … I think that was probably the spark. Little did we know that it would ultimately lead to his entry into the Catholic Church in 1997,” said Cella. 

Mark Simon, Lai’s business associate, then spoke. Simon said that Lai initially wanted to make money but started realizing he was missing something else, noting that Lai was a free market economist. 

“There’s one thing that we have to remember here. Jimmy’s Catholic faith now permeates everything. He’s a man of democracy … what made him stay was his faith,” said Simon. 

Simon quoted Lai from a conversation as saying, “I can’t abandon these people.” Simon then talked about Lai’s newspaper, Apple Daily News, which was shut down by the Chinese government due to their national security laws. 

Next there was a showing of the 20-minute version of the documentary “The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom,” which showcased the hardships Lai faced up until his recent arrest and trial. 

There was a Q&A session with Cella and Simon after the showing. 

“I would really turn to Jimmy’s example as a witness to courage, detachment, and fortitude … we know what the truth is and I think just be happy warriors,” said Cella. “Don’t be daunted by what you see. This is a grand adventure that we’re living in.” 

Simon commented that Lai would tell the audience to have a happy life and ask for them to help him out by writing to somebody. 

“And I think [Lai] would love Franciscan because he would love the faith,” added Simon.