Bishop speaks on the Year of Vocations

Dear brothers and sisters
in the Lord,

In line with the pastoral priorities set by the Diocesan Synod (2000-2001), it was originally planned to follow the Year of St. Paul with the Year of Vocations. The purpose was to encourage all clerics, religious and lay people in the diocese to work together in implementing the recommendations of Group Seven of the Diocesan Synod, which dealt with The Vocation and the Continuing Formation of Diocesan Priests.

Then, by God’s providence, Pope Benedict XVI announced on March 16 that, in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Mary Vianney, the Cure of Ars, the period from June 19 this year until June 19 next year would be designated the Year of Priests. He urges priests to imitate the example of St. John Mary Vianney, in particular his piety, humility, selflessness and faithfulness. These virtues will enable priests to dedicate themselves more effectively to serving the Church and society.

Bearing in mind the fact that the good example of priests is crucial to the fostering of priestly vocations, I have decided, after seeking the advice of the Council of Priests and the Board of Diocesan Consultors, that our diocese will celebrate a Year of Priestly Vocations, which will run from July 1 this year to December 31 next year.

This celebration will take into consideration both the aims of the Year of Priests, as announced by the Holy Father, and the aforementioned priorities of the Diocesan Synod. It is my profound hope that our priests will actively participate in ongoing formation, raise the quality of their pastoral ministry and, united with the laity and through various vocational activities, encourage young men to respond to God’s call with generosity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 1562-1589) tells us that a priest, after receiving the sacrament of Holy Orders, becomes a co-worker with the bishop in the mission entrusted by Christ to the apostles. The Holy Spirit makes a priest resemble Christ and represent Christ. In the ministry of teaching, sanctifying and governing the Church community, a priest acts in the person of Christ.

A priest reaches the summit of his sacred ministry at the Eucharist; he is empowered to consecrate bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Therefore, the ministry of a priest cannot be reduced to an ordinary service, but it should rather be seen as a sublime identity and mission.

Every year, at the Chrism Mass on Holy Thursday, priests in our diocese gather at the cathedral around the bishop and renew their commitment to priestly service. This liturgy mirrors the fact that, just as Jesus instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders at the Last Supper, he personally calls all his brother priests together on Holy Thursday to reaffirm the identity and mission of each one. After the priests have renewed their commitment, the bishop consecrates the holy oils. This rite symbolises the consecration of priests and their commission to spread the fragrant aroma of Christ throughout the world.

Even counting the Chinese and foreign members of religious institutes and societies of apostolic life, there are only 300 priests in Hong Kong. This is certainly not enough to cope with the increasingly heavy demands of evangelisation and pastoral care. Thus, fully aware of the need for more priestly vocations, many clerics and lay people are asking themselves, “What more must we do during the Year of Priestly Vocations?” The following are my suggestions:

1. As Pope John Paul II mentioned in his Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, On the Beginning of the New Millennium (2001), in this era of constant change, people often fall into activism and get trapped in doing something just for the sake of doing it and for no other reason. To resist this temptation, a priest must be someone who places to be ahead of to do (n. 15).

This means that he must have a daily schedule for regular prayers, with a fixed time for meditation on scripture and spiritual reading. Further, a priest must participate actively in the diocesan programmes for ongoing formation. Only in this way will he be able to “put out into the deep” (Mark 5:4) and avoid falling into activism or spiritual dryness.

Priests should be worthy of commendation, faithful to their vocation, faithful to Christ, determined to commit their lives for the sake of Christ and always show reverence and devotion to the Eucharist. Whenever they celebrate the Eucharist or the other sacraments, they must be respectful so that the liturgy may become the summit and the source of our activity in the Church.

2. Today, Jesus continues to call new workers to his vineyard, yet this requires our active cooperation. The devotion of priests to the Eucharist can inspire young people. Now, as in the past, priests have an important role in attracting young men to the priesthood. Priests must be particularly solicitous of altar boys’ associations, because these are seedbeds of vocations. The favourable impression we make attracts the altar boys, who will then serve at the altar with joy and zeal and be formed in the Christian faith. In this way, an altar boys’ association is similar to a minor seminary. Indeed, we have to let the altar boys surrounding the altar look like branches of olive trees (Psalms 127:3).

3. Aside from affirming and carrying on what we have been doing so far for fostering vocations, I have also instructed the formation team in the Holy Spirit Seminary to broaden the scope of the recruitment of seminarians and to revive a good tradition of our Church: allow the seminary to receive boys in Form Four or above, who are willing to stay for an experience of life in the seminary. This will enable the seeds of priestly vocation to be sown in their hearts. We appeal to all the faithful, especially parish priests and Catholic parents, to give full support to this programme.

4. I wish to repeat what I already said in my homily on April 30, during the Mass on the commencement of my episcopal ministry as bishop of Hong Kong, that every parish should establish, as soon as possible, a committee for promoting vocations and that spiritual and material support should be given to its endeavours.

5. The Commission for the Ongoing Formation of the Clergy, the Diocesan Vocations Commission and the Holy Spirit Seminary are planning activities for the ongoing formation of priests and for promoting priestly vocations. I invite every one of you to take an active part in them.

“Man proposes, God disposes.” So runs the old saying. We know for sure that everything is in the hands of the Lord. That was why the Holy Father, in his letter for World Day of Prayer for Vocations on May 3, exhorted every Catholic to pray fervently to God for more vocations: “The vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life constitutes a special gift of God, which becomes part of the great plan of love and salvation that God has for every man and woman and for the whole humanity.”

Therefore, I firmly believe that even if secular values should get the upper hand, God will keep on calling his young friends in Hong Kong. So let all of us together pray without ceasing, that our young men will have the eyes of faith and generous hearts, and respond positively to God’s call.

In conclusion, with the Blessed Mother, let each of us respond thus to the calling of the Lord: “May it be done to me according to your word!” (Luke 1:38)

+ John Tong
Bishop of Hong Kong
June 2009
Closing of the Year of St. Paul