CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Hong Kong joins China in prayer for Pope Benedict and his successor

HONG KONG (SE): In response to a letter sent by the Vatican secretary of state, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, to all dioceses and religious houses in the world on February 21, passing on a request from Pope Benedict XVI for Catholics everywhere to be with him in prayer during the last days of his pontificate, Hong Kong diocese called people to come together at a Mass offered at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the evening of February 27.

The bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, read a letter in both English and Cantonese which he had penned to the pope expressing his personal gratitude for the leadership he has given to the Church during his eight years in the Chair of Peter and thanking him especially for the care that he has extended to the Church in China (see page 2).

“It was mailed to the pope earlier today,” Cardinal Tong told the 600 or so people who gathered to pray quietly in the lofty church. He described the decision of the pope to step down at this time as a brave and wise move.

A short biography of the life of Pope Benedict was read out at the beginning of the Mass and Cardinal Tong invited people to especially offer a prayer of gratitude for the way in which the pope has served the Church and the world during his pontificate.

He also asked people to remember the cardinals who would be heading to Rome in early March to elect his successor and urged them to pray that they will be sensitive to the movements of the Holy Spirit in their deliberations.

In addition, he asked that people always remember Pope Benedict as the pope emeritus, asking that he may continue to use his faith to serve the Church through his life of prayer, reflection and contemplation.

Cardinal Bertone said in his letter, “The Holy Father is certain that you, in your monasteries and convents throughout the world, will provide the precious resource of that prayerful faith which down the centuries has accompanied and sustained the Church along her pilgrim path.”

He adds that in choosing to retire to a life of prayer, contemplation and reflection, the pope is showing in a significant manner that it is the spirit of prayer which is the most authentic and profound dimension of every action of the Church.

Catholic people in China have also responded to the pope’s decision to step down in a spirit of gratitude.

A letter sent to Pope Benedict on behalf of all priests and Catholic people in China admits to the initial shock of hearing the news and to a feeling of regret people felt that someone they saw as having profound care for them would be moving on.

It says people are having difficulty saying goodbye. “The free and unconfined attitude you showed before power, honour and status, as well as your strong, persevering, humane response to various challenges have won the respect of the whole world.

“This not only moved the world, but also makes it difficult for us Chinese clergy and Catholics to say farewell to you,” the letter reads.

However, as the initial shock wore off, the letter says, “We Chinese clergy and faithful people will never forget you. We will love you forever.”

The letter adds that the Church in China will remember the pope as a man of dignity and faith.

“In the past eight years, when facing complex and uncertain international situations, Your Holiness made every effort to safeguard human dignity, pursue truth, defend the values of faith and actively promote the new evangelisation,” the people from the Church in China said to the pope as he prepared to step down.

In admitting their own limitations, the Chinese people say to the pope, “Please forgive our weaknesses and limitations. We hope that Your Holiness will continue to care for the little flock in China and stay connected to the Chinese people in prayer during your life of retirement.”

The letter also quotes from the words used by a former apostolic delegate to China when briefing the pope on the Church in the Middle Kingdom some years ago. “In this world, all Christians have been suffering for Jesus Christ, but the Catholics of China suffer for Your Holiness at the same time.”

It notes that there was some disappointment at being seemingly ignored by Pope Benedict when he first became bishop of Rome. It says that at that time, “Then Your Holiness seemed to enter a long and deep silence.”

However, it adds that eight years on, that feeling of disappointment has been replaced with a profound sense of gratitude for the care that the pope has constantly lavished on the Church in China.

It lists the obvious care he showed for the clergy and people, his annual greetings as people celebrated the Lunar New Year, the best wishes he sent during the turbulent period of bringing the Olympic Flame to Beijing in 2008 and his sympathy for victims of the earthquakes in Yushu and Qinghai, as well as mudslides and flooding in Zhouqu and Gansu.

“Your Holiness not only grieved and lamented the death of our compatriots, but also appealed to the universal Church to pray for the victims, the various government personnel and those kind-hearted people who participated in the rescue work in the front line of disaster areas,” the letter recalls.

“You also called on other countries to stretch out their hands of friendship to support the disaster areas in China… In addition, Your Holiness generously donated to the Chinese victims four times through Cor Unum (Vatican Aid) to Jinde Charities,” it continues.

It also mentions with great affection how much people felt the pope’s concern when he penned a letter to the Catholic people of China in 2007. “We will never forget that,” the people say.

The letter notes that the people are expressing regret that Pope Benedict never had the opportunity to visit China, but adds that they are holding onto the hope that his successor will be able to make the trip.

As the helicopter carrying the pope into retirement rose into the blue skyline above Rome at 5.00pm on February 28, Chinese flags flew proudly in St. Peter’s Square outside the Vatican apartments, as people farewelled the pope they had come to love so much.

Sister Lucia, from Shijiazhuang in Hebei, told AsiaNews as she waved her last farewell that she believes it is significant that he is stepping down in the Year of Faith.

“Many dioceses have proposed catechesis to spread the message of the pope, his testimony and example during this year,” she said as her final testimony.


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