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Pastoral Letter for Advent 2016

 

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:

 

“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20) Advent always reminds us of entering into a new liturgical year in the history of salvation. We are preparing for the Savior to come.

 

Looking back over the Jubilee Year of Mercy that ended on November 20, the efforts made by the Diocesan Ad Hoc Committee for the Jubilee of Mercy, the Liturgy Commission, the Church media and all the parishes in our Diocese are highly appreciated. Thanks are due to everyone for all promotion and implementation of formation activities, liturgical celebrations and pastoral matters relating to the Holy Year. The Opening of the Holy Doors, the arrangement of receiving Jubilee Indulgences and the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as pilgrimages to the seven designated churches and chapels have met with the active participation of the faithful from the Diocese and other places. Such spiritual and pastoral acts have deepened our understanding of Jesus as the visible face of the invisible Merciful Father and have reminded us of praying and showing mercy and forgiveness to one another.

 

It was amazing that Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa of Kolkata during the Jubilee of Mercy, on September 4 at St Peter’s Square. Mother Teresa had visited Hong Kong many times. Her merciful deeds had inspired numerous here and worldwide to share their comfort, love and respect for life. She was praised for giving material and spiritual support to the poor and the sick.

 

Pope Francis, in his homily at the Canonization Mass, commended her for her defense of human life and for being a mother of the poor, a generous dispenser of divine mercy. “She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that ‘the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable’. She bowed down before those who were spent, and left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity.” Pope Francis said: “For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavor to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears for their poverty and suffering.” This is also a good reminder for us to be alert of the coming of Jesus.

 

The life of the unborn is obviously connected with marriage and family. During his pontificate of just over three years, Pope Francis has convened two Synods of Bishops in 2014 and 2015 on the theme of family. The Holy Father gathered ideas and recommendations expressed by the participating cardinals and synod fathers, and

 

published the Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of Love on March 19, 2016. The apostolic document “represents an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience.” (The Joy of Love, 5)

 

In Hong Kong, with the contribution of ideas from the Board of Diocesan Consultors and the Council of Priests, I decided to use this Pastoral Letter for Advent to announce the priority for the pastoral work of our Diocese in the coming year: Care for marriage, family and life; Study and live out “The Joy of Love”.

 

In 2014, after attending the Extraordinary Consistory on family in February, I conveyed its ideas through my Easter Pastoral Letter. A thought emerged from the synod, with reference to Genesis 1:27-28 that tells about God’s creation of man and woman, uniting them to form a family and to procreate. It is God’s plan to create the world with marriage and family. It was also noted that Jesus raised marriage to be a sacrament, giving special grace to marital life and declaring that families live out the mystery of Christ and grow in love (see Ephesians 5:32). Finally, the Synod Fathers pointed out that the Church emphasizes “the inviolable fidelity of spouses” and “an unbreakable union between them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1646). However, divorcees should be treated with Christ-like compassion, empathy and mercy, and be accompanied on their spiritual journey. The Church should not just consider the legal aspect of the matter and neglect the scars and pain, nor should one tolerate wrongs and give up the truth. We should lead them to gradually discern and understand the plan of God for them and how to respond to His call, moving into the realm of full communion with the Church.

 

At the Extraordinary Consistory, I also shared with other prelates about the situations of marriage and family in our Diocese: In the last 20 years, the faithful of our Diocese deeply felt the importance of family life. Many laity groups concerned family and marriage were formed and provide pastoral care, social services and formative activities for parents, couples and individuals in need. At the recommendation of the Diocesan Synod in Hong Kong (2000-2001), a Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family has been formed to handle related pastoral needs. At parochial level, many parishes further established a Parochial Pastoral Group for Family, actively propagating formative activities on the positive values of marriage, family and life. I deeply hope that more, even all, parishes will form such groups to help couples and families to overcome difficulties and to promote love and mutual understanding. The aforesaid Diocesan Commission will provide the necessary assistance and support to parishes.

 

In recent years, more and more men and women have participated and benefitted from our Church-run pre-marital courses on marriages. Our Diocese has more than 10 associations and organizations specializing in the ministries of marriage, family or life. Through their services and contributions, a number of experienced Catholic couples are trained to serve in the pre-marital and post-wedding counseling, and to accompany those in need. However, for Catholics who sought civil divorces or those remarried, our pastoral care is far from sufficient. The Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family attempts to offer and coordinate the necessary support.

 

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord: As marriage and family are the foundations of society, faith can help families face challenges in life, and a deepened faith can strengthen the bonds among family members. Let us begin with family life, by offering more time and love for family members, praying fervently in families, living in harmony, parenting, and living out forgiveness and mercy. Then, we can extend this way of life from family to workplace and society.

 

Finally, I hope the disparity of wealth in our society will be alleviated, and the economic improvement of the poor may help resolve certain social conflicts. Also, job schedules of long working hours in need of improvement. Then, more people can enjoy a better family life and nourish their bodies, minds and souls.

 

Let us prepare ourselves to welcome our Savior! May God bless you!

 

+ John Cardinal Tong
November 20, 2016
The Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe

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