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Cardinal Zen questions unconditional commitment to government
HONG KONG (SE): “Education is a process in which students seek the truth and, in the process, develop their potential,” the former bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, told around 300 people at a forum organised by the Catholic Education Office at Ng Wah Catholic Secondary School on September 25 to discuss the proposed Moral and National Education Consultation Paper.
Addressing the consultation paper issued by the government of Hong Kong, the cardinal said that there are three groups in society that have the right to educate children: parents, civic society and the country.
He added that it is important to remember that civic education sits between the right of parents to educate and the country. He pinpointed civic bodies and the Church as being good examples of society organisations that do have this right.
However, he noted that parents maintain the right to reject any teaching that they do not believe in and even have the right to say no to any educational process if they do not find what is being taught in line with their own thinking.
Cardinal Zen added that education must relate to the development of the whole person, the physical and the artistic, as well as intellectual, and he stressed, “The most important is moral.”
He explained that in terms of moral education, the Church cherishes ethics; respect for rights, the family, the search for truth and justice, but the overriding element is love.
“Justice and love are at the top,” he noted, “but in the teaching process fairness comes first, as it is a prerequisite to love.”
He added that because people are social beings, social ethics are important and family is an essential part of social society, which expands into civic and national education like concentric circles.
Cardinal Zen explained that the country provides both civic and national education, which can basically be boiled down to teaching young people to be good citizens, which is extremely important.
He described national education as developing a sense of responsibility in students towards the nation, but added that it is only one part of their identity which includes family, neighbourhood, wider society and the whole world.
He went on to say that patriotism involves love of our own people, love of our culture, love of our environment or the landscape within which we live, but the controversial one in the government consultation paper is, should we love our government.
The cardinal suggested that basically the answer is yes, but it is not clear cut and can be conditional, as like anything else, a government can only command love or respect if it acts for good; in other words, it can only elicit love or respect, not demand it.
In saying that students should not be encouraged to love totalitarian regimes, he cited the examples of Adolph Hitler’s Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Italy prior to and during World War II, calling them extreme examples of governments that were not entitled to either love or respect.
“In China, I would have reservations about a one-party system,” Cardinal Zen stated, adding that he believes that is a dangerous thing to ask or encourage students to give unconditional or unreserved commitment to a government.
He then asked if people are required to obey their government or not, answering his own question by saying, “Not if it is demanding anything that is contrary to Church teaching.”
Cardinal Zen then quoted from the Church’s Just War Theory, saying that in extreme situations the Church teaches that even armed resistance can be justified under certain, strict conditions.
However, he added that it is clear that there is no obligation on behalf of the people to obey or respect a repressive government or areas of legislation designed to suppress people.
Francis Chan Nai-kwok, the curriculum officer at the Catholic Education Office, gave a summary at the forum of the response of the diocese to the government consultation paper, which was lodged on August 31, which is critical of the suggested programme as being too narrow, as citizenship is only one of several factors involved in a person’ identity (Sunday Examiner, September 11).
He told the Sunday Examiner that he believes the core issue with the proposed education programme is identity, and the bottom line question is what type of Chinese person the government wants to work towards nurturing.
He said that he found the forum useful from the point of view of teachers who may be required to teach the subject if it ever gets into the classroom.
He added that the overall atmosphere among the teachers, parents, parishioners and other interested parties present was that they do not want to simply transplant what is taught on the mainland to Hong Kong.
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