My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16) This golden biblical passage summarizes God’s whole salvific plan. God not only created human beings out of love, but also after human beings committed sin, he still unconditionally loved us. Thus he sent his only Son, the Lord Jesus, to become incarnate in the world, and to completely sacrifice his life for all human beings.
This moves each one of us to accept such great love joyfully, and to transform it into our faith, which we will embrace for our whole life. As love needs to be received and shared, likewise all the followers of Jesus should become apostles, spreading the Gospel to the whole world until the end of time. (cf. Matt. 28:20) Therefore, by promulgating his Apostolic Letter entitled The Door of Faith on the 11th of October last year, our Holy Father Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith. The Year of Faith started on October 11th this year, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, and the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Year of Faith will end on the Feast of Christ the King, the 24th of November next year.
In The Door of Faith the Holy Father stated: “The Year of Faith is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Saviour of the world. In the mystery of his death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5: 31).”
I just returned from Rome last month, after participating in the 13th Synod of Bishops. Whenever I was asked by journalists or my friends what I thought about the synod, I used 3 adjectives to describe my feelings: wonderful, difficult and possible.
Being with the Holy Father and with my brother-bishops from all over the world for 3 weeks was wonderful, because the spirit of unity and catholicity of our Catholic Church was strongly expressed and deepened in all the bishops. Moreover, the topic of the Synod wonderfully matched the current pastoral direction of our Diocese. The topic of the Synod was: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. Since I became the bishop of the Hong Kong Diocese in April 2009, I proposed 4 pastoral priorities for the mission efforts of our diocese: evangelization, the promotion of priestly and religious vocations, a pastoral concern for non-Chinese speaking Catholics, and serving as a bridge-church between the Church in China and the Universal Church. These 4 pastoral priorities are correlated. The New Evangelization, the theme of the Synod of Bishops, is exactly the first pastoral priority of our diocese.
Also after 1997 till now, we in Hong Kong still enjoy full religious freedom. We can still carry out direct or indirect evangelization through 51 parishes, 244 Catholic schools and a wide-range of social services, especially by Caritas-Hong Kong. Even more wonderful is the fact that the diocese has more than 1,000 volunteer catechists. Due to their concerted effort, our diocese was blessed to have 3,500 adult baptisms at the last Easter vigil. I hope and pray that the number of converts will continue to grow in quantity and quality.
Most of the bishops in the Synod acknowledged that the modern world and our church are today facing the challenges of secularism, materialism and moral indifference. Thus it is not easy to evangelize and to promote priestly or religious vocations. Since Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city, it is unavoidable that our diocese should face the same challenges. There are some baptized persons who do not practice their faith. At the same time, even though our diocese has 300 priests, 500 Sisters and 100 permanent deacons, religious Brothers and seminarians, the average age of the priests and Sisters is about 60. More worrying is that there are only 10 seminarians in our diocesan seminary. I fervently hope that every priest in the diocese should be a vocation promoter.
All the assemblies and gatherings of the Synod started and ended with prayer. All the participants had a spirit of openness and unity. They contributed to the Synod by sharing their precious experiences and insightful proposals.
Moreover, at the beginning of November this year at our annual priests retreat, the retreat master, Father Ronald Witherup, Superior General of the Sulpician Fathers took as his theme the new evangelization. He explained that the “new” in the new evangelization means to inwardly re-evangelize ourselves and outwardly to share our faith with others. His sermons matched the interventions and proposals of the bishops at the Synod.
After reflection and prayer on the contents of the Synod and our recent retreat, I want to present the following 7 proposals as our diocesan directives for the Year of Faith:
1. In order to become disciples of Our Lord, and to effectively transmit our Christian faith to others, our lives should be transformed by Christ.
2. Life is continually changing. In order to live more perfectly, we have to continue to improve our spiritual lives. The new evangelization means that each one of us must undergo on-going conversion and full transformation into Christ.
3. The inward transformation and outward evangelization cannot depend on our own efforts. We need God’s help. Therefore, we have to pray more fervently, and make good use of the power of silence and reflection.
4. When we evangelize, we should also be united with our brothers and sisters in the church, so that through mutual support and encouragement we will produce abundant fruit
5. The New Evangelization also asks us to use modern means of communication to spread the Gospel more effectively, e.g., the internet.
6. We have to learn humility from Jesus Christ, up to the stage of self-emptying, and to learn from Him how to respect every human person.
7. We, particularly Catholic youth, must always be joyful Christians, and offer life witness to society.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, united with our Diocesan Ad Hoc Committee for the Year of Faith and following the teaching of our Holy Father in his Apostolic Letter, The Door of Faith, and the Note with Pastoral Recommendations for the Year of Faith issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as the directives of the Synod Fathers, let us wholeheartedly and actively celebrate the Year of Faith. A practical way of doing this is to re-study the Documents of Vatican II and the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, to pray daily with the Sacred Scriptures, and to fervently receive the Sacraments. In this way we will deepen our own faith, and will be effective vehicles to bring our faith to those who do not yet know Jesus, as well as to bring back to the church those baptized persons, who do not practice their faith.
Let us entrust this Year of Faith to Our Mother Mary, proclaimed blessed because she believed. (cf. Lk. 1:45)
+ John Cardinal Tong
Bishop of Hong Kong
First Sunday of Advent 2012