CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Hong Kong celebrates election of a new pope

HONG KONG (SE): “It was a great celebration for our new pope,” said the elated consul general from the Argentine Republic to Hong Kong, Gustavo Fazzari, at the end of a Mass to give thanks for the election of Pope Francis held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on the evening of April 8.

He added that although it is a great thing for his people of Argentina, he believes that Pope Francis is a blessing to the whole world, saying that as archbishop of Buenos Aires he has shown that he has much needed gifts to bring to his new ministry.

Speaking to a packed cathedral, the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, recounted how struck he was with the simplicity of the manner of the new pope.

He said that when the name of Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was first revealed to the conclave, “He first went to embrace Ivan Cardinal Dias, who had difficulty walking. The new Holy Father really cares for everybody, particularly the weak.”

Cardinal Tong explained that Pope Francis then greeted all the cardinals in the conclave. “In my turn, I presented Pope Francis with a small bronze Chinese statue of Our Lady of Sheshan,” he said.

He explained that he then made a request of the new pope, “The Catholics in China love you and will pray for you. Also, we ask for your care for all Chinese Catholics and please pray for us.”

Cardinal Tong said that he was surprised with the warm response he received from the new pope. “To my surprise he kissed my right hand to show his love and devotion to the Church in China. This gesture moved me deeply,” he related.

Pope Francis also said, “Chinese Catholics have given many testimonies to the universal Church.”

Cardinal Tong added that he met the pope again by accident in the elevator and Pope Francis spontaneously thanked him for the gift of the Marian statue.

“He said that the Marian statue is now standing in his room and reminds him of St. Francis Xavier who arrived in China more than 460 years ago. He told me that he never forgets to pray for Chinese Catholics,” Cardinal Tong continued.

He added that in a homily given by the new pope at a Mass on March 15, he was surprised when Pope Francis openly thanked him for the small gift of the statue. The pope later added, “The Church in China is in my heart.”

Cardinal Tong explained that when he arrived in Rome on March 6 for the pre-conclave discussions among the cardinals of the world, he made a pitch for the Church in China.

“The Chinese Catholics have appreciated the care Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI had for them,” he told the gathering.

He especially stressed the importance that the letter Pope Benedict penned to all the Catholic people of China in 2007 has even today, in addition to the concern he showed for the struggling Church by setting up the Vatican China Commission.

“They hope the new Holy Father will continue to care for them, help them to be reconciled with each other and that a dialogue between the Hoy See and the Chinese government will resume, and that eventually the Church in China will achieve full communion with the universal Church,” Cardinal Tong told the pre-conclave gathering of cardinals.

The Argentine consul general added that he believes that unlikely friendships are one of the new pope’s strong points. He explained that he had deep disagreements with two successive presidents in his country, but was always able to maintain a constant and healthy communication with them, which did not boil over in frustration in the country’s media.

“They seemed to get on,” Fazzari said. “They saw each other often and talked a lot.”

The ability to dialogue with those who hold vastly divergent opinions could be an important ability for a pope on the thorny road towards dialogue with Beijing.

Cardinal Tong also stressed the important role that the local Church in Hong Kong still has to play in opening up this dialogue. “The Church in Hong Kong is always happy to serve as a bridge Church between the Church in China and the universal Church,” he pointed out.

The Mass of thanksgiving for the new pope was a true celebration of the all embracing nature of the new man in the Chair of Peter, as leaders of Christian faiths and members of the diplomatic corps gathered to give thanks for the new leader of the world’s Catholics as being an inspiration for people of good will from all walks of life.

The consul general from The Philippines to Hong Kong, Noel Servigon, read the second reading and the two concelebrating bishops, Cardinal Tong and Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun, greeted their guests warmly at the sign of peace.

All present were invited to express their faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, which was punctuated with pauses for reflection as the gong of the qing (ancient Chinese instrument made of stone or jade which reverberates when hit with a mallet) reverberated throughout the lofty cavities of the cathedral.

Cardinal Tong concluded his homily by quoting from Pope Francis’ homily at his March 19 installation Mass. “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will; let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Fazzari commented that in the Argentine, Pope Francis is widely admired and appreciated for the work he did with the poor, which earned him respect even from those who may not have followed him.

 “There has been a resurgence of interest in the faith since Cardinal Bergoglio became pope,” Fazzari reflected.

Pope Francis explained that part of being a protector implies keeping watch over our own emotions and hearts, as they are the seat of evil intention.

A resurgence in true religious fervour may bring people to look at each other through different eyes and even, as the pope suggests, with goodness and tenderness.

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