As people think of those close to them at every joyful feast, I send you this family letter to wish all of you a Merry Christmas full of the Lord’s peace.
After I accepted the Holy Father’s assignment to be the bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong in mid-April last year, I spent time in prayerful reflection and wove together four dreams, or aspirations, for the future of the diocese.
I have shared these four dreams with some Catholics in a number of parish celebrations and I repeat them now in this Family Letter. I hope and pray that we will view these four dreams as challenges facing all of us and we will be united in making them come true during our upcoming Diocesan Year of the Laity, and present them as gifts to the newborn Jesus.
As the gospel records, the Magi were led by the light of a star. They found the newborn Jesus, worshiped him and presented him with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). According to folk tradition, there was a fourth Magi. Because he was busy en route helping people, he got separated from the group. By the time he finally found Jesus, he had no gifts left to offer him. Yet Jesus praised him, saying “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40). This folk tradition and the gospel account complement each other in an excellent way, and fit in very closely with the four dreams which I want to share with all of you.
My first dream is to continue striving to evangelise. This is the mission to teach all nations which Jesus, before he ascended into heaven, urged his disciples to accomplish (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15). Hong Kong is currently the largest Chinese diocese in the world. We feel very blessed to be part of it. Every year there are over 5,000 baptisms. Half of them are adult baptisms, and half are children. This year, the number of newly baptised reached 6,000.
But we cannot be satisfied with this phenomenon. Paul Cardinal Shan of Taiwan, once taught me how to encourage Catholics to make progress in evangelisation: when a parish or organisation marks an anniversary, the best way to celebrate is not to host a big banquet or to publish a souvenir booklet, but to seek as many catechumens as the number of years it is celebrating and to present their efforts as gifts to God.
For example, if a parish is celebrating its 50th anniversary, then all the Catholics in the parish should united to seek and instruct at least 50 catechumens for baptism. Of course, the number of new catechumens should correspond to the increasing number of years being celebrated. According to diocesan regulations, the catechumenate should last a year-and-a-half and the catechist should have completed classes in theology, scripture or catechetics.
In the Diocesan Synod Documents of 2001, the first pastoral directive is faith formation of the Laity and Lay Ministry. It points out that for Catholics, receiving faith formation and spreading the gospel, or witnessing to the faith, are two sides of the same coin. The more we share our faith with others, the more we will feel the need for further formation in our faith and vice versa. John Cardinal Baptist Wu said, “The more the diocese evangelises, the more it thrives.” When we strive to evangelise in this way, we are offering to other people the most precious thing in our lives which is our faith. It is as if the Magi presented the gift of gold to the newborn Jesus.
The second dream is to make every effort to promote vocations. When he was on mission, Jesus exhorted us: “The harvest is great, but the labourers are few, so beg the master of the harvest to send workers to his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38; Luke 10:2). As Karl Rahner, a German theologian, explained, there are three levels of vocation.
The most basic level is the vocation which every human being possesses: since God has given every individual a conscience, all are called to do good and avoid evil. At a higher level there is the vocation of the baptised: God clearly calls us to live the Christian life of saving ourselves and others. Going up one more level, there is the vocation to priesthood: God calls them on behalf of Jesus to teach, to administer the sacraments and to shepherd Catholics.
Our diocese now has about 300 priests, half of them Chinese and half other nationalities, 500 sisters, mostly Chinese, 100 permanent deacons, brothers and seminarians. The old outnumber the young. The number of those responding to a call to become a priest, brother or sister is far from ideal.
I urge each parish in the coming year to establish a vocation promotion group, in order to pray more for vocations, to give material and spiritual support to vocations, and to seek vocations. I also implore each young Catholic in every parish and organisation to ask God daily to give himself or herself a vocation. If they plead every day, God will certainly respond. Of course, during the Year of the Laity, we should all respond more strongly to the call which we received at baptism.
No matter whether it is promoting the vocation of the common priesthood of the laity, or promoting the vocation of the ministerial priesthood of the ordained clergy, together with the Magi’s offering frankincense to the newborn Jesus, all are a participation in and a reverence for the priesthood of Jesus.
My third dream is concern for international Catholics. When he was on mission, Jesus instructed his own disciples: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50, Mark 3:35).
Hong Kong is an international city and one-quarter of the Catholics are foreign nationals, the majority of whom are Filipinos. On the World Day for Migrants and Refugees, our Holy Father pointed out: there are no foreigners in the Church; foreign Catholics form one family with us.
Thus, no matter if it is an individual or a group, we all have the responsibility to accept our international brothers and sisters with loving concern. For many years, I have urged every parish to arrange an English Mass to make it convenient for international Catholics to fulfill their Sunday obligation, and to also provide them with parish or school facilities for meetings and fellowship.
Let us allow them to share the beauty, joy and blessings of their cultures. In fact, I have often reminded international Catholics that they are not only in Hong Kong to work. They are also evangelisers with their cultural characteristics. St. Paul said, “Although there are many parts, they are all one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12).
If we have more concern for international Catholics, we definitely can promote the spirit of communion during the Year of the Laity: the Church, as one body, and the human race, as one family. What Jesus said to the fourth Magi, he also will say to us, “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me.”
My fourth dream is to play the role of Bridge Church. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed specially for his disciples: “Father! May they all be one, as you are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us, that the world might believe it was you who sent me” (Jn. 17:21).
Since the Cultural Revolution ended over 30 years ago, Mainland China reopened. While the people enjoy economic freedom, Catholics enjoy only a certain degree of toleration in religious activities.
The government established the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, to supervise and to control Churches and religious activities. And so Catholics in China reacted in different ways. Although there is only one Catholic Church in China, some members of the laity and clergy entered the official association, while other groups remained underground.
There are many conflicts among them. Thus, it was urgent to promote reconciliation. Since the Holy Father gave directions in his Letter to the Catholic Church in China, issued in 2007, our Diocese of Hong Kong should make greater efforts to be a Bridge Church.We should help Mainland Catholics obtain better religious formation, and achieve full communion with the Holy Father and the universal Church.
I hope and pray that all of us can fulfill this important responsibility in a prudent and low profile manner. Promoting reconciliation within the Church in China and also helping them reach full communion with the universal Church will not only bring success to the mission advocated by the Year of the Laity, but will also have the effect symbolised by myrrh, which was the gift of the Magi to the newborn Jesus: dying to isolation and living into communion.
Rabindrinath Tagore, an Indian poet,wrote this popularstory: I am a beggar who carries a begging bag. One day in the crowd, I looked up and saw an elegant prince approaching. He unexpectedly stood before me, and stretched out his hand to receive a gift. I reached into my bag and gave him one grain of rice. At sunset, I emptied my cloth bag and found one small piece of gold, the same size and shape of that grain of rice which I had given to the prince. At once I regretted having been so stingy with the prince, and not offering him more gifts.
My dear brothers and sisters, please do not be stingy. The more we offer to the newborn Jesus, the more abundant and precious will be the gifts which we will receive from his hands.