CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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New bishop for Macau

HONG KONG (SE): A cryptic communiqué from the Vatican dated January 16 announced that a request for early retirement from Bishop José Lai Hung-seng as the bishop of Macau for health reasons had been accepted by the Holy See and that Bishop Stephen Lee Bun-sang, who was ordained as an auxiliary in Hong Kong in September 2014, would be installed as the new bishop of the diocese on January 23.

The Vatican announcement simply stated, “These pontifical provisions express the pastoral care and the love of Pope Francis and of the Holy See toward the Church in China and, in a special way, toward the diocese of Macau which has been for more than four centuries a bridge of culture and Catholic faith between the east and the west.”

Significantly, Bishop Lee will be installed as bishop of Macau at a Mass scheduled to mark the 440th anniversary of the foundation of the diocese.

An announcement from the diocese of Hong Kong says that he will be missed by the local Church, but the appointment does pave the way for the two dioceses of Hong Kong and Macau to have closer contact and more exchange.

The announcement says, “We would like to take this opportunity to express our support for Bishop Lee’s new pastoral task and we offer him our prayer and blessing. We are confident that the diocese of Macau, under his leadership, will bear abundant fruit in the years to come.”

The news was announced in Hong Kong at a dinner party celebrating the ordination of two deacons by a representative of the Holy See on January 16. Bishop Lee said that he only got final news of the appointment on January 11.

He told the gathering, “Like all of you, I felt so surprised, as it happened really quickly. I learned about it one week ago and next week I have to go to Macau. I have not even packed my things as yet.”

He added that although he loves Hong Kong and is a bit unwilling to leave, “I am happy to accept the appointment. Though I will miss Hong Kong, my faith prompts me to be willing to go to any place that my services are needed.”

Fifty-nine-year-old Bishop Lee was baptised into the Catholic Church at the age of 19 at St. Margaret’s parish in Happy Valley, just before he left the territory to study architecture in England. 

In 1978 he decided to join the Opus Dei Prelature in London as a numerary (a lay person who volunteers to do apostolic work with the prelature—they make up about 20 per cent of the membership). 

In 1984, after two years working as an architect in Hong Kong, he entered the international seminary of Opus Dei at the University of Navarre, Spain, and was ordained a priest on 20 August 1988.

He returned to Hong Kong the following year and devoted himself to working in various centres and schools run by Opus Dei in the city.

However, his degree in canon law saw him eventually appointed as the Defender of the Bond in the Diocesan Tribunal and his interest in the education of young people resulted in him being appointed supervisor of the Tak Sun School in Kowloon.

His main commitment has been in retreat work and recollection days, as well as catechetics, both within Opus Dei and on the wider scene in the diocese.

Bishop Lee has also specialised in how Church law can be applied in irregular situations, such as experienced by the Church in China, where the usual autonomy enjoyed by a religious organisation does not apply.

Nevertheless, Bishop Lee told a media conference on the day of his ordination that he is optimistic about relations between Beijing and the Vatican, saying that both parties hope to do good for the Chinese people so he believes the relationship can progress.

In Hong Kong, he has been involved in diocesan commissions on family life, schools, catechesis, education of the laity, bio-ethics and liturgy.

Bishop Lai was ordained a priest in 1972, becoming the coadjutor bishop of Macau in 2001. Two years later he succeeded Bishop Domingos Lam Ka-tseung, when he stepped down as leader of the diocese. Bishop Lam was the first Chinese bishop of Macau.

The Vatican announcement says that Bishop Lai will continue to have contact with Macau as the former bishop after a period of prayer and rest. The Vatican described Bishop Lai’s desire to retire as legitimate and says that these pontifical provisions express the love and concern of Pope Francis for China and in a special way for Macau.


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