My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm118:24).

May the Risen Christ grant you peace and joy!

This Easter Vigil leads us to rejoice greatly, because a total of 3,500 catechumens will receive the Sacraments of Initiation and become members of our family, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong.

This is God’s gift and it is also the fruit of our joint effort to evangelise. I offer my sincerest thanks to all of you. I look forward to being with the newly baptised brothers and sisters in the Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday and celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving with them.

Although we have made progress in evangelisation, we should not be satisfied. Rather, we should vigorously seek to advance in the Year of the Laity. Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium),clearly points out that “the laity are all the faithful, except those in holy orders and those in a religious state approved by the Church. These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God. They are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetic and kingly functions of Christ. They carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world”(n. 31).

This is precisely the direction that the Universal Church shows us, both old and new Catholics, to work for in the Year of the Laity. In other words, it encourages us not only to pay attention to the number of people converting to Jesus Christ, but also we should attend to the quality of the faithful.

How can we advance in evangelisation to attain good results, both quantitatively and qualitatively? The answer is to join small communities of faith. Numerous new Catholic organisations have been blooming since Vatican II. Their purpose and vision are to help individuals deepen their personal relationship with God, to experience the presence of Jesus, and form small communities of faith for mutual support.

Their plan is to cultivate members to be Christians committed to serve the Church in different ministries, bring forth a spirit of love for the Church and of service to society, and to be better able to spread the Gospel in word and deed.

In the Diocesan Synod Documents of 2002, Group One on “Faith Formation of the Laity and Lay Ministry,” suggests that every Catholic should cultivate the habit of prayer and reading the Bible every day, and it encourages Catholics, especially new Catholics, to join small communities of faith, so as to continue their experience and growth of the catechumenate, and to deepen their religious lives.

In fact, as early as 1989, Cardinal Wu had already strongly promoted small communities of faith in his Pastoral Exhortation, March into the Bright Decade. In his interim report and proposal in 1995 (that is, the Pastoral Exhortation Proclaim the Gospel of the Lord, Spread the Kingdom of God), based on past experiences, some basic concepts of small communities of faith were further clarified as follows:

1. It was stated in the Pastoral Exhortation that small communities of faith can follow “a variety of forms and models.” Thus, they can be
associations of the faithful, basic Christian communities, neighbourhood Catholic groups, etc. However, they ought to satisfy the following
conditions in order to be small communities of faith:

(i)“Maturity in faith and service of others”
(ii)“Christ-centred”; “Nourished by the Word of God, the Sacraments, and Prayers”; “Acceptance of the mission of evangelisation”
(iii) “Real community life and certain basic characteristics”

2. When the Pastoral Exhortation states that there should be “real community life,” it means to emphasise that there should be a community spirit and atmosphere, internal unity and dynamics, and common goals. Small communities of faith should maintain communion with the whole parish, the Diocese and the Universal Church for mutual enrichment.

3.The statement that small communities of faith should possess certain “basic characteristics” has two major meanings:

Small communities of faith are the most basic units of the Church’s existence within the parish structure.

They are mainly composed of lay people. They should be natural and spontaneous, capable of being self-reliant. They should accept evangelisation as their mission, live their faith and bear witness to it.

4. Small communities of faith can serve as a good communications network for the parish. In addition, they can provide the body of the faithful
with an effective formation instrument, enabling them to “grow in faith” and “serve the Gospel,” thus preparing the Church for a new model
of existence.

5. In developing small communities of faith, the whole parish will become a community of faith, enabling itself to fulfill the mission of evangelisation, to develop the internal dynamics of faith and to bear witness in society.

Christian life is basically a kind of communal life. No matter how deep the spiritual life of a Christian is, or how active a Christian is in serving the parish, he or she still cannot avoid times of coldness, depression or doubt.

At such times, he or she must join other believers in praying, reading the Bible, offering each other mutual support and sharing their worries. This is like a single lump of charcoal. If it burns by itself, the fire will be easily extinguished. But placed in a furnace among other pieces of burning charcoal, it will not stop burning easily. Therefore, I sincerely encourage all Catholics, both new and old, to participate in small communities of faith.

In order to promote small communities of faith effectively, after consulting the Council of Priests and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, I hereby declare the extension of the “Year of the Laity” for one more year, through to December 31 next year.

I sincerely hope that in the remaining one-and-a-half-years, we will work with one accord to implement the guidelines given by the Diocesan Synod and the Pastoral Exhortations of Cardinal Wu mentioned above.

May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us, so that we will have a continuous increase in the number of converts, and the faith of our Catholics will grow to maturity!

+John Tong
Bishop of Hong Kong
April 17, 2011
Passion Sunday

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