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Ecumenical prayer opens legal year

HONG KONG (SE): Around 100 members of the legal fraternity gathered to pray for the implementation of justice, fairness and mercy at an ecumenical service led by John Cardinal Tong Hon and Bishop Andrew Chan Au-ming, from the Anglican Communion, at St Joseph’s in Central on January 11 to mark the opening of the legal year.

The two bishops wore the traditional red, representing the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit descending at Pentecost, and led the legal fraternity in a prayer for guidance from the Spirit for all those who seek to bring justice to society.

Organised by the St. Thomas More Society, which was formed in Hong Kong by some Catholic lawyers and a Protestant group, the prayer service was held on the same day that judicial officers gathered at City Hall to mark the beginning of the legal year.

Cardinal Tong led a prayer for the pursuit of justice, the protection of the innocent and the upholding of the rule of law, while Bishop Chan led a prayer for repentance.

Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, the chief justice of the Court of Final Appeal; Andrew Cheung Kui-nung, the chief justice of the High Court; and veteran barrister, Martin Lee Chu-ming, proclaimed the readings from the scriptures.

Cardinal Tong and Bishop Chan gave a joint blessing to the congregation at the end of the prayer service.

In his homily for the occasion, Father Joseph Houston encouraged the legal practitioners to manifest the values of their faith through their professional work and to build the kingdom of God on earth through the implementation of justice and mercy. He emphasised that administration of all law should be based on mercy.

Father Houston said that Vatican II encourages people to put Christian values into practice in different aspects of law and their daily lives. He stressed that Christian legal practitioners should believe that Jesus Christ is the ruler of justice and the law should uphold justice so as to protect the dignity of God’s people.

At the same time, he said he believes that everyone can respect a legal system that upholds justice, as it is made not to restrict freedom, but to protect it.

As all people and organisations are equal before the law, Father Houston said that judicial officers should not be afraid of the rich or be biased in favour of the poor. Under the principle of judicial independence, they should also ignore any pressures from the outside.

He then led the gathering in a prayer that legal practitioners will protect the rights of all people, rich or poor; that law enforcement personnel will be faithful to their duties; and correctional services staff will help those in prison to build a renewed life.

Alan Leong Kah-kit, a veteran barrister, said he hopes all Christian legal practitioners can look into the meaning of bearing the cross, implement justice and act on Church teaching.

Leong said legal practitioners have often come under unreasonable criticism and insult while upholding their own principles in recent years. He hopes a reflection on the meaning of the cross can help them face these hardships in a peaceful manner.

At the City Hall ceremony, chief justice Ma said that no one organisation is above the law or outside the rule of the law. He pointed out that judicial reviews protect the public interest and the wellbeing of society, so their important role should be recognised and cherished.

The ecumenical prayer service has evolved in Hong Kong from the traditional Red Mass, the first historical record of which details a ceremony held in the cathedral in Paris in 1245.

In some parts of the world, the medical profession celebrates a White or Rose Mass to pray for ethical guidance in the practice of the profession.

 

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