CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Without prayer we do our own thing not God’s says new Serra president

HONG KONG (SE): “As the first Serra Club in Asia, Hong Kong has made a huge contribution to the promotion of religious vocation throughout the whole continent,” John Woodward, from Serra International headquarters in Chicago, the United States of America (US), told the Sunday Examiner at the celebration of the local branch’s golden jubilee on February 24.

“It has also been a trail blazer, as other clubs around Asia took their initiative from Hong Kong and it has played a significant role in breaking Serra’s traditional identity as a primarily western, English-speaking organisation, as many local people joined the club, making it a Chinese organisation.

The bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, offered his congratulations to members of the club on reaching such a significant milestone at a celebratory Mass held in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“I congratulate all members and encourage you to remain united in promoting vocations vigorously,” he told the 600 or so people present.

The cardinal pointed out that the principal objectives of Serra are the sanctification of its members and the promotion of vocation to the religious life through prayer and the example of their own lives.

Cardinal Tong paid tribute to Father Joseph Carra, from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, whom he remembers from his seminary days.

“He and the first members of the club directed a lot of energy into developing Serra and promoting constant prayer for vocations,” he recalled.

Previous president of the Hong Kong branch and former worldwide president of Serra International, Thomas Wong, recalled that the foundation of the club in 1963 was largely due to the work of Ralph Hauenstein, a former colonel from the intelligence division in the US Army.

Wong told the Sunday Examiner, “Hauenstein once told me that he personally brought the Serran Bell to Hong Kong for the charter ceremony, which saw the beginnings of Asia’s oldest chapter of the organisation.”

Cardinal Tong added that in his 27 years as bishop of the then-British colony, John Baptist Cardinal Wu Cheng-chung issued a pastoral letter on vocations almost every year.

“He encouraged people to pray for and promote vocations in the family, among priests, teachers and lay leaders,” Cardinal Tong reminisced.

The cardinal thanked the Serrans for the important role they play in fulfilling the duty of any Christian community to foster vocations and to support programmes promoting formation for the religious life.

Sean Yeo, from Singapore, who will take over the worldwide presidency later this year, said that the experience of Serra in Hong Kong was a great help when they were setting up the organisation in his homeland.

Yeo told the Sunday Examiner that he believes the biggest challenge facing Serra today is to renew and intensify the spirit of prayer among its members.

He reflected, “The intensity of distractions that confront each of us in our daily lives has escalated.” 

He explained that as a result, even among well meaning Catholic people, prayer has tended to be viewed more and more as unproductive time.

“When we pray more for religious vocations, the Lord will inspire us on the programmes and activities we need to undertake in order to bring about the blossoming of the seeds of vocation that he has sown in the hearts of our young people,” Yeo commented.

“Without prayer, we run the risk of resorting to our own devices and substituting God’s work with our own agenda,” he continued.

He quoted Mother Teresa as saying, “God has not called me to be successful. He has called me to be faithful.”

Yeo added that as worldwide president he hopes to promote fidelity to prayer and life witness, in a courageous manner. “But we must leave the outcome to the Lord,” he concluded.

Yeo will become only the second world president from Asia, after Wong, who held the position in 2011 and 2012.

Woodward told the Sunday Examiner that the club has taken Blessed Junipero Serra, from whom it derives its name, as its patron. He said that he is an appropriate choice, because as a missionary in Latin America in the 1700s he supported the Church where it was not strong.

He described the vocation of Serrans as being fundamentally to pray for vocations and give witness in their own lives, but it is also to look for ways of opening up possibilities.

Nevertheless, he commented, “The better we do with ourselves, the better we do in fostering vocations. I believe that God will guide our efforts.”

He said that we must always remember the power of prayer. “Imagine the Serran prayer for vocations being prayed every morning and night right around the world by thousands of people,” he said. “With so many people praying, somehow the culture within the Church has to change.”

Woodward said that he believes that prayer is one of the most powerful means we have to effect a change in cultural attitudes.

Although a member of Serra’s worldwide governing body in the US, Woodward lives in Brisbane, Australia, with his family.

The Australian Serran, who made the trip to be present at the Hong Kong branch’s milestone celebration, quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI as saying that somewhere in the Christian life, we must fall in love with the person of Jesus Christ.

“Fall in love with is the operative phrase,” he stressed. “As a man who fell in love with a wonderful woman almost 50 years ago, I well understand the power of those words. Love can change anything.”

He commented that in listening to Cardinal Tong speak at the Mass, “I realised that we have a responsibility to look after vocations. It is a strong image,” he continued.

“When my mother told me as a young boy to go and look after my younger brother, I knew exactly what she meant,” he elaborated. “It really is every Catholic’s responsibility to look after vocations in our Church.”

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