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A year leaving many issues hanging

HONG KONG (SE): Undoubtedly the biggest event of 2013 in the Church was Pope Benedict XVI becoming the first pope in recent times to resign from the job. This was followed by the election of the first pope from the Americas, Argentinean, Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio.

Cardinal Bergoglio chose the name which today is in the top echelon of mega Internet stars: Francis.

While commentators who have dissected the writings and speeches of Pope Benedict can tell us that Pope Francis says precious little that his predecessor had not already uttered, he does say it in a more listener-friendly manner.

Speaking at an international conference on relational poverty organised by Caritas Hong Kong in May, Robert Cardinal Sarah, the president of the pope’s charity, Cor Unum, said that the beauty of this pope is that he speaks in a language and a manner that anyone can listen to.

Following what was described as a year of discontent, the fresh-faced pope from Latin America has blown a new wind into this year, not just through the Church, but the world.

While the new pope was good news, the climate change conference in Doha was generally regarded as doing little, although the little it did do was important. However, it effectively poured polluted water on the follow-up meeting in Warsaw.

In February, bishops in China commented that the recent closure of some seminaries is not only the result of government interference or pressure, but also reflects a drop in vocations.

The ongoing bad news for the Church in China has been the continued detention of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in Shanghai, who has been under house arrest since his ordination in July 2012 and prevented from taking up his duties.

However, hope is found in the fact that recently, his communications have been allowed to reach a wider audience and he has spoken on social media on a greater variety of topics.

Ongoing questioning of priests by the authorities has also made life in many dioceses difficult and people are reluctant to communicate with each other on issues of religion.

In the same month, preparation also began for what was to turn out to be a successful alternative World Youth Day for young people who could not go to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for the real event.

Some 400 locals had a productive and enjoyable week-long Youth Day At Home, culminating in a camp on Cheung Chau and a Mass on the shores of Victoria Harbour in Tsimshatsui.

The Maryknoll Sisters celebrated the raising of their founder, Mother Mary Joseph Rogers, to the Hall of Fame in the United States of America with the citation noting she was a person that made a cultural impact not only on religious life, but on the whole country.

Easter saw a bright spot for the diocese with the baptism of 3,560 adult catechumens around the city, although later in the year, the bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, pointed out that sustaining the initial fervour may be a neglected part of the pastoral challenge of the diocese.

During what has been a turbulent year politically in the city, April saw the launch of the Occupy Central Movement, which has remained a controversial and much debated topic all year.

However, it did give rise to a conversation on the justification of civil disobedience as a means of political action, which under certain circumstances can get a tick from the Church.

Speaking later in the year, the vicar general, Father Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, told a press conference at the cathedral that the diocese would support those who choose to take part and would offer assistance if they were arrested.

Cardinal Tong has stated firmly that the diocese is neither encouraging nor discouraging people from joining in the movement, but Father Yeung’s comment suggests it does not oppose it.

In April, the province of Sichuan was again rocked by an earthquake and the people of Hong Kong were once again called on to give generously.

However, although encouraged by the government, they seemed less eager to give, in stark contrast to the outpouring of generosity for the typhoon relief in The Philippines during November, when even without the urging of the government, people from all walks of life joined the worldwide appeal.

The spontaneous generosity has been a spirit-lifter for Filipinos in the city, who have seen another side of the public from the one so often portrayed in the media.

The Church in China, and indeed in much wider circles, mourned when the aging Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian died in Shanghai after a long illness.

Although a controversial character, Bishop Jin was at the forefront of leading the Church towards the modern world, after some 30 years in the wilderness and cut off from huge developments, like Vatican II, the introduction of vernacular to the liturgy and the cultural change that had taken place in Catholic life.

Widely criticised, as well as respected, he was recognised as a highly capable leader who played a tough and skillful game between opposing tensions.

In June, massive crowds again gathered at Victoria Square on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. An increasingly younger attendance indicates that it will continue into the future and once again a prayer gathering was held by the Church prior to evening proceedings.

The Catholic social welfare provider in the city, Caritas, marked its 60th anniversary of service with a Mass at the cathedral in June 30 while October saw the announcement that two popes would be canonised, Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, and 

The first encyclical to bear the signature of Pope Francis was also released. The Light of Faith is discernibly the work of his predecessor with, but in the new pope’s own words, a bit of his own touch.

It is signed simply Francis, which has become his trademark endorsement.

On July 28, the diocese released what is arguably its most important statement for the year, An Urgent Call for Earnest Dialogue and Responsible Action.

It is critical of the movement towards democracy, describing the proposed methods for selecting a chief executive as professing to, but in fact not truly being in accordance with democratic procedures.

It attributes the emergence of the Occupy Central movement to a consequence of this and other issues, stating that it is a matter that must be addressed in a proper consultative manner by the government.

It urges people to enter the dialogue and actively search for solutions “that will help to remove all root causes for civil disobedience and realise the goal of Occupy Central.”

The bishops of Japan put new zest into their annual Ten Days of Peace around the anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They made a strong call for Japan to protect what is known as its Peace Constitution, which the current government is currently working extremely doggedly to dismantle. It is seen as having widespread ramifications for peace in the troubled triangle of China, Korea and Japan, as well as in other areas of Asia.

The plight of minority groups in Hong Kong was in the news when the local education policy of effectively isolating their children into a few schools was condemned as unjust by the United Nations Human Rights periodic review panel.

Although the education department spoke of its plans at an evening held in the Philippine consulate general to address the issue, implementation is still in its infancy stage, but the sign of hope may be that at least some determination does exist.

In September Pope Francis really put his stamp on the world, when he called for a prayer vigil for peace in Syria on September 7 and lobbied strongly with world leaders to keep foreign armies out of the country.

In the process, it seems that what may have been seen as an unlikely friendship was formed with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, and, in the long run, western powers did keep their militaries in home barracks.

The year ended with the release of Pope Francis’ first teaching document, The Joy of the Gospel. In style, it is typically Pope Francis and far removed from that of the first encyclical to bear his signature.

He found some expected enemies among the tycoons of this world and some unlikely friends, with his words being embraced by the Communist and Maoist leaders of the troubled country of Nepal.

The death of Nelson Mandela, the first black president of South Africa, left the world in mourning, with many in Hong Kong remembering his legacy.

Mandela leaves a poignant challenge to nurture the great lessons of his life that only the equality of people will lead to peace and prosperity in this world.


While a productive year for debate, 2013 leaves most issues hanging.