Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:
May the Risen Lord bestow on you his peace and joy!
According to a 2,400-year-old book entitled, Master Lie (Lie Zi Zhuan), during the latter part of our country’s Spring-Autumn period, Confucius was travelling in the area of Mount Tai. He came across a man wearing rather poor clothing. His name was Rong Qiqi. Confucius noticed that he was strumming a guitar and singing a song. So he asked him: “Why are you so happy?” Rong Qiqi replied: “There are many things to be happy about. First, Heaven has brought forth everything in the world. Among them, human beings are the most valuable. I am a human being. This is the first happy matter. Secondly, of those born as human beings, some die even before opening their eyes and some die in their swaddling clothes. But I have been able to live until middle age. This is the second happy matter. Finally, poverty is common in a human being’s life and death only signifies reaching our final destination. However, I am peacefully and normally going along in the direction of a human being’s final destination. Is there anything else I should be worried about?” When Confucius heard this he had great admiration for Rong Qiqi.
At Easter this year, our Hong Kong diocese has two more reasons to be happy and thankful. The first is that 3,600 adults will receive the sacraments of Christian Initiation and become members of our great Catholic family at the Easter Vigil. Secondly, more and more of our Catholics are happily pursuing further education in doctrine, scripture and theology. They are doing this so that they can participate in the mission of the Church by becoming volunteer catechists or so they can more effectively spread the gospel by their words and deeds.
Our diocese is really following in the footsteps of the universal Church. During the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, our diocese carried out scrutinies and anointings with oil in several parishes for those who were preparing to receive the sacraments of Christian Initiation. The scriptures read at every ceremony clearly told the catechumens what graces they would receive from the Lord and how to give thanks for them. The reading for the third Sunday of Lent were taken from the gospel according to John 4:5-42, recounting the dialogue which took place between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. It reveals to the catechumens how they, like the Samaritan woman would receive the living water of the Spirit and how they should learn from the woman that they must spread their own faith to their neighbours.
Likewise, the reading at the ceremony of scrutinies and anointings with oil on the fourth Sunday of Lent was the gospel according to John 9:1-41, the story of Jesus curing the man born blind. It teaches the catechumens that, like the blind man, they too would go from darkness into light. It is spiritual light for their hearts and souls. Then as disciples of the Lord, they in turn should become lights to the world. Finally, the scripture chosen for the ceremony of scrutinies and anointings with oil on the fifth Sunday of Lent was taken from the John 11:1-45, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It clearly tells the catechumens that, like Lazarus, when they received the sacraments of Christian Initiation, they too would receive a new life, and should, through their words and deeds, bear witness to Jesus as the Light of Life for the whole world.
Dear new and old Christians in the Church, we here in Hong Kong are very blessed to be living in a free society. We have several institutions and communications media which can nourish our faith, deepen our faith and from which we can learn methods for spreading the gospel. For instance, the diocese has the Diocesan Catechetical Centre, the Central Council of the Laity, the Liturgical Commission, the Catholic Biblical Institute, the Holy Spirit Seminary College, the Kung Kao Po and the Sunday Examiner, among others. Of course, more importantly, we should not forget to read the bible every day, say morning and evening prayers every day, participate in Sunday Mass and periodically receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Each one of us should also participate in a small faith community, where members mutually support one another in living the faith.
During the last 30 some years since the re-opening of China, I have been blessed to be able to visit our beautiful motherland more than 100 times. I have also met many of our fellow Catholics and have listened to moving stories about their efforts to spread the gospel. Here are the two stories which I most like to share with others.
A young priest in the northern part of the country shared this first story with me. He himself is not a good speaker, and his intelligence is only ordinary. He was also not very good in his studies in the seminary. But when the rector saw that he was very humble and fervent, he approved him for ordination as a priest. After ordination, he was sent to the countryside for pastoral service. Since he realised that his abilities were not of a very high standard, he divided the Catholics of his parish into two groups. Newly baptised Catholics had the responsibility for inviting their non-Catholic friends and neighbours to join the catechumenate at the church. The others were responsible for teaching Catholic doctrine to the catechumens. While the Catholics were teaching the doctrine, the priest stayed in a small chapel, fervently praying until the catechism classes were finished. As a result, each year he was able to administer baptism to over 1,000 new Catholics!
In the second story takes place in the northwestern part of China. One Catholic realised the importance of evangelisation. He therefore undertook a fervent campaign of missionary activity. He did not bring any money or food with him. On the one hand, he preached the gospel, and on the other hand, he begged for food. At night he would sleep at the front door of peoples’ houses. However, because his fervour for preaching the gospel moved people, he converted over 1,000 people and introduced them to the Church. Because those new Catholics needed to receive baptism and the other sacraments, he went into the city and invited a priest to come and administer the sacraments to them. In this way, his missionary achievements, which he originally did not want people to know about, were made known to the public.
On November 30 last year, His Holiness Pope Francis delivered a message for the opening of the Year of Consecrated Life—which will last for 14 months. The message was meant not only for those leading a consecrated life, but for everyone in the whole Church. The Holy Father offered a vision and made three appeals to Catholics
• Be joyful witnesses of the gospel.
• Be evangelisers who trust in God and courageously carry out the work of evangelisation.
• Unite with one another and be concerned for the poor, so that the Kingdom of God will be realised soon throughout the whole world.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us respond positively to the Holy Father’s appeals in his message for the Year of the Consecrated Life. Again I want to wish everyone:
Happy Easter! Alleluia!
+John Cardinal Tong,
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong
The end of March, 2015