Presenting the Fruit of the Hong Kong Diocesan Synod “Love Life, The Gift of God!”
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
(1) Historical Background Looking back on the last thirty years of our Diocese’s history, we sense the continual care of the Holy Spirit. Thirty years ago, Bishop Francis Hsu convoked the first Diocesan Synod (called the Diocesan Convention). This created an opportunity for the whole Diocese to be united in a serious study of the deliberations of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and, having in view the concrete local situation, to decided the right direction for the pastoral work and evangelization effort of the Diocese.
Since I took up the office of Bishop of this Diocese in 1975, it has been my constant concern to promote the renewal of the clergy and the formation of the faithful, making use of the reflections of the different pastoral themes of the Federation of Asian Bishop’s Conferences. In 1989, after thorough consultation and research, I issued a pastoral letter on the day of Pentecost, calling everyone in the Diocese to cultivate the spirit of reconciliation and to build small communities of faith, in order to “March into the Bright Decade”. After five years the Diocese made an evaluation of the progress of the programme and issued an interim report.
At the beginning of the new Millennium, under the valiant leadership of the Holy Father, the faithful the world over enthusiastically accepted the new challenge. We, the Church in Hong Kong, were no exception. On 1 October 1999, after having consulted with the Priests’ Council, Diocesan Pastoral Council and Board of the Diocesan Consultors, I convoked a Diocesan Synod and appointed a Preparatory Committee. The Instruction promulgated by the Holy See in 1997 regarding the celebration of a Diocesan Synod gave the basic orientation to the preparatory work. The Committee worked efficiently and prepared a “Directory” for the Synod. Finally on 4 March 2000, the Diocesan Synod, which lasted one year and ten months, formally opened
(2) Privileged Situation We must thank the Lord for the celebration of the Diocesan Synod, because “all that is good, everything that is perfect, is given us from the above” (Jas. 1:17). Hong Kong returned to the sovereignty of the Motherland, and we are proud to be Chinese and Catholics, but among so many dioceses in China only we, in the Diocese of Hong Kong, are privileged to enjoy full communion with the Universal Church and with our leader the Pope and only we are able to hold such an Assembly with full freedom of speech, of gathering and of activity. Is this not a very special grace from God?
The means of transportation in our Diocese are so efficient that we can easily gather in one place from all corners of the city. This is also a fortunate situation not easily found elsewhere.
(3) Aim of the Synod We have a well-organised and efficient structure of governance in our Diocese. We are in a position to face problems which occur as they arise: e.g. the need to amalgamate parishes, to promote social concern groups in the parishes etc. This Diocesan Synod was not convened to solve any particular problem. Rather, its aim has been to reach consensus, at the beginning of the new millennium, on pastoral priorities and, in the process, to foster internal cohesion in our community, thus making more visible the reality of the Mystical Body of Christ.
(4) Methodology With this aim in view, we devised a methodology and a way of proceeding. Once the body of members of the Synod had been formed, according to a composition proposed by the Preparatory Committee and approved by my authority, the members, either ex officio or elected, were to assume the whole responsibility for the Synodal work, moving, so to speck, from the bottom to the top. They were given a choice as to what topics to discuss and in which drafting group to participate. The Preparatory Committee was then to present the format for the drafts each group had to preapare. The content of the drafts, however, was to be left entirely to the members of each group to create, collectively. The work was not to be delegated to one or a few experts.
Two open forums gave an opportunity to all the faithful to discuss the drafts and make suggestions. In that way, we would have a second draft and a third draft. Only the last draft would become the Instrumentum laboris, i.e. the materials on which the Plenary Assembly would work. Our conviction is: the Spirit of God bestows his gifts on the whole of the People of God. Of course, it is my duty to lead the Diocese. According to Church Law all the deliberations of the Synod are of a consultative nature only, but it is precisely with the light coming from all the Synod members, and from all the faithful, that I most confidently come to give a direction to the pastoral and evangelization work of our Diocese.
(5) Fruits of the Synod-Communion of Spirits Our conviction has been confirmed and our expectations more than realised. Our Synod witnessed the truth of St. Paul’s words: “The particular way in which the Spirit is given to each person is for a good purpose… a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all those parts, though many, make one body… one spirit was given to us all to drink.” (1 Cor. 12:7, 12-13). Two hundred brothers and sisters in Christ, with very different backgrounds, representing various categories, prayed together, listened to each other, reflected and planned. A beautiful scene out of the primitive Church unfolded before our eyes.
I want to express my most sincere thanks to many people: to the members of the Preparatory Committee, whose low profile but very efficient work gave the Synod a good start; to the Coordinating Committee, made up of members of the Presidency and the chairpersons of the drafting groups, who along the way provided wise and timely clarifications and made adjustments to procedural matters; to all the members of the Synod, who so generously gave their time and energy. I could perceive that every one listened to “what the Spirit is saying to the Church”. (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)
I was delighted to see realized in our Synodal members the spirit that Blessed Pope John XXIII hoped to find in the Bishops of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: “Serenity of heart, brotherly harmony, moderation in proposing, dignity in discussing and wisdom in deliberating”.
As I present to the people of God the conclusions of the Synod, I can most confidently declare: this is what “has been decided by the Holy Spirit and by ourselves”. (Acts 15:28) All this was made possible, I am sure, by the prayers of all the faithful, especially by our Brothers and Sisters in the contemplative communities. To them goes our deepest gratitude. Faithful to the ecumenical spirit we invited ten representatives from other Christian Communities to witness our Synodal work. Their presence and encouraging messages were an extra blessing of God to us.
(6) Fruits of the Synod-Pastoral Guidelines The Preparatory Committee listed 13 topics. The Synod members were to choose the ones they wished to discuss. These topics were taken from different sources (Note 1). The Synod members showed preference for 7 of the 13 topics and I accepted them as the Synod’s agenda (Note 2). Then, again, respecting the personal preferences of each one (their first choice or, at least, second choice) I constituted the seven drafting groups. The hard work of the groups produced the 7 drafts which were discussed, voted upon and approved by the Plenary Assembly as Synodal Deliberations.
Each Draft was made of three parts: “Reflecting on the Situation”, “Basic Principals” and “Concrete Recommendations”. Obviously the most important are the “recommendations”. A total of 177 recommendations were voted upon, one by one, and approved by the Synod Assembly. But the “Reflection on the Situation” and the “Basic Principles” must not be overlooked. The former helped to identify the problems and the latter supplied the foundations for our deliberations.
With a Decree dated today, I have officially promulgated the Synodal deliberations contained in the 7 drafts with the 177 Concrete Recommendations, and declared that they be our “Diocesan Pastoral Guidelines” for the coming decade.
Parallel to the Synod, thanks to the pastoral concern of the Major Superiors of Religious Men, an “Ad Hoc Committee for Evaluation of Pastoral Care for Foreigners” complies a draft “Guidelines for the pastoral work for non-Chinese speaking people”. I have integrated these into the Synod conclusions and declared them also to be “Diocesan Pastoral Guidelines”.
Are there not too many deliberations and guidelines? Some may question: who among the brothers and sisters in the Church will be able to absorb all this material thoroughly? Actually, everybody should have a general knowledge of all the deliberations. In that way, each person and each group of community can select what is most pertinent to their status and role, study those materials more deeply and put them into practice.
(7) Priorities To achieve a more visible internal cohesion, Synod members were invited to indicate 10 priorities out of 177 deliberations. Numbers 4, 6, 15, 32, 84, 111, 116 133, 148 and 164 were chosen. I deeply admire the wisdom of the Synod members: these 10 are really the most important of all the deliberations. I recognize them as the top priorities for pastoral guidelines.
In analysing these 10 points with the Board of Consultors, we noticed a difference between them: two may be qualified as transitory (A), and eight as of a more permanent nature (B).
(A) Deliberations of transitory nature: a) Year of Evangelization (No. 111) Its fruit, surely, will last a long time, but the celebration proper of the year is limited in time. I think its preparatory committee should be convened by our Central Council of Laity and the planning and coordination work should start as soon as possible.
b) Setting up of a Catholic University (No. 164) This is a huge enterprise needing everybody’s attention, and the encouragement, support and supervision of the Diocesan authority. An “Ad Hoc Committee” will bring forward the project.
(B) The eight others of a more permanent nature may be grouped into three categories: a) Marriage and Family (No. 116 and No. 133) No. 116 points to the goal: “conscientisation of the faithful”. The current mentality in society regarding marriage and family is so far removed from what God expects, that without a well-developed formation programme, the faithful will easily fall victims of the prevailing worldly mentality.
No. 133 states that the Diocese set up a “Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family” to coordinate and harmonise those groups and institutions which already exist and operate in the Diocese. A detailed list of things to be done is also suggested. This is the only permanent Commissions that the Diocesan Synod requested to set up. We are reluctant to multiply commissions, but this one seems absolutely necessary. The list of the commission members is about to be announced.
b) Parish Youth Pastoral Worker and School Pastoral Worker (No. 32 and No. 148, cf. also No. 46) These two deliberations demand some full-time workers for youth pastoral work, but the wider meaning is obvious: the need to stress the importance of this work. I am very pleased to see that the Diocesan Youth Commission and the Catholic Education Office are already actively engaged in initiatives aimed at the realisation of these deliberations.
c) Faith Formation No. 15 mentions the need to reinforce formation activities, and proposes the establishment of formation teams in parishes for the planning an coordination of formation activities.
No. 6 and No. 4 suggest that two particularly favourable ambiences for faith formation are the catecumenate and the small communities of faith.
No. 84 provides an essential dimension of faith formation, that of the prophetic role of social concern: this actually reconfirms what the Diocese has been particularly promoting in recent years, i.e. the defence of social justice and human rights. I do hope that through the flourishing parish social concern groups, our faithful, following the example of the present-day Pope, may even more widely and more courageously play this prophetic role.
Faith formation is mainly carried out in the parishes, but obviously it needs support from Diocesan formation agencies. Thank God our Diocese is equipped with an enviable abundance and variety of such formation agencies (Note 3). The Synodal deliberation shall certainly give a new impetus to all these.
At the beginning of the year, I appointed a “working committee” to draft a five-year plan for putting into practice the deliberations listed in (B). On 15 April 2002, the Committee presented me with the fruit of their work, including those parts which are very detailed. I will give this plan to all people concerned, in order that they may avail themselves of this instrument freely.
(8) Over-all Vision Not a few of the delegates had asked me to give a guiding vision to the Synod work. Of course, one possible way of working could have been for the Bishop to give a direction and have the delegates draw concrete implications from this. We had opted, however, for the method “from the bottom to the top”. We favoured obtaining a general direction from the priority guidelines deliberated by the delegates under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
So we reflected on the above three priority topics and tried to find, especially in the Bible, a synthetic idea, which would bind the three topics in a unity. We believe we have found this concept: Life. You may remember that the theme of the Synod of Bishops’ Assembly for Asia given by the Holy Father was precisely the quotation from St. John’s Gospel, “that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn. 10:10)
In recent years, the Holy Father more than ever has launched the campaign in favour of the Gospel of life against the culture of death.
In Hong Kong also, facing the upsurge of suicides, people who care for the society appeal to everybody to treasure their life. So we can formulate the main message of our Diocesan Synod as: Let us treasure God’s gift: life, an abundant life!
a) Marriage and Family: life blossoms and bears fruit in love, and new lives are born in the warmth of the family and protected by the love of those who know how to sacrifice themselves.
b) Youth Pastoral: parish and school come to the aid of the family for the healthy growth of the young lives.
c) Faith Formation: brings life back to its origin, into the sphere of the divine, to be the salt of the earth and light to the world in this society which seems to have lost its direction.
(9) Execution and Monitoring The responsibility for putting into practice the Synod deliberations belongs to everybody in the Diocese. The responsibility for promotion falls on the existing executive and consultative diocesan organisms, plus the new commission for Marriage and Family. In the coming years my contact with these organisations will aim mainly at the execution of the Synod conclusions.
After consultation with the Priests’ Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, I shall also appoint a “Monitoring Commissions”, which will watch the pace of the execution of the Synod conclusions. This commission will include: the three lay members of the Presidency of the Synod, one priest to be nominated by the Priest members of the Synod, one religious woman to be nominated by the religious women who were members of the Synod, one representative of the faithful from the parishes and one from Diocesan organisations or from lay associations nominated from delegates to the Synod from those categories.
The term of office of the said commission will be five years. Each year the commission will publish a summary report, and a full report at the end of the five-year period. I am confident that the members of the commission will work with the same dedication they displayed during the Synod, that they will fulfill their duty objectively and positively.
(10) Commitment and Confidence Dear Brothers and Sisters, looking back we must wholeheartedly thank the Lord, because during the Diocesan Synod He has really “worked great things in us” (Lk. 1:49). The Archangel told Tobit, “It is right to keep the secret of a King, yet right to reveal and publish the works of God” (Tob. 12:7). The conclusions of the Synod are for us both a grace from God and a new challenge. A wonderful pastoral plan is before our eyes, now it is time we take up our commitment.
Our first reaction may be fear and hesitation. Is not the Diocese experiencing a dire lack of clergy? Is not Hong Kong society shadowed by pessimism and helplessness because of the economic and political situation? Yes, this is true. From a human perspective we should be afraid of not being up to the task. But, through the Holy Father, Our Lord is telling us: “Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch!” (Lk. 5:4) (Novo Millennio Ineunte). Let us obey the Lord’s command, and put our trust in Him. “Apart from Christ we can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5); the power of the Holy Spirit is our strength.
The Patroness of our Diocese, Mary, Our Mother, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the “New Star of Evangelization”, will protect us and lead us, so that like the servants who waited at the wedding of Cana, we may do whatever Her Son tells us to do. Let us run enthusiastically toward the goal set before us, in order to reap abundant fruit from our Diocesan Synod, so that our Diocese may be more dynamically missionary and hasten the coming of the Kingdom of justice, love, peace and hope in Hong Kong, in our Motherland, and in the whole world.
+ John Baptist Cardinal Wu The Bishop of Hong Kong Nativity of Our Lady 2002
Note 1: (1) The Acts of the “Diocesan Convention” (1970-1971); (2) The pastoral letter “March into the Bright Decade” and the interim report on it; (3) Kung Kao Po’s survey on the 10 top priorities (23 May 1999 issue); (4) Ideas collected during the day seminar for Priests and Religious (18 June 1999); (5) The Message to the People of God from the Synod of the Bishops Assembly for Asia and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia”.
Note 2: (1) “Faith Formation of the Laity and Lay Ministry”. (2) “Youth Pastoral Care” later changed to “Youth and Young Teenage Pastoral Care”. (3) Social Concern. (4) ” Evangelization” later changed to “Evangelization (Ad Gentes)”. (5) “Family Pastoral Care” later changed to “Marriage and Family Pastoral Care”. (6) Education and Culture. (7) “The Vocation and the Continuing Formation for the Clergy” later changed to “The Vocation and continuous Formation for the Diocesan Priests”.
Note 3: Holy Spirit Seminary College offers courses in Philosophy and Theology and in religious studies. Courses in various aspects religion are also offered at the Hong Kong Catholic Biblical Institute, the Diocesan Catechetical Centre, Caritas Francis Hsu College and the Diocesan Liturgy Commission. Courses and seminars are often organised by the Diocesan Office for Laity Formation, by the Central Council of Catholic Laity, the Diocesan Youth Commission and Hong Kong Catholic Biblical Associations. In addition there are publications, conferences and seminars initiated by the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission and Diocesan Commission for Labour Affairs. There are retreats and study sessions organised by lay associations and non-diocesan organisations.