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Forty years on Justice in the World document still carries vital message
HONG KONG (SE): “We recognise that justice is not just a legal entity, but something that cannot be divorced from our humanity, as people created in the image and likeness of God,” Poon Wan-yu, from the Hong Kong-based Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples, told a gathering at St. Margaret’s parish in Happy Valley, on December 18.
In introducing the afternoon study session organised by the centre, in cooperation with the Emmanuel Apostolatus, to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1971 document from the World Synod of Bishops, Justice in the World (Justitia in Mundo), Poon prayed that it may bring blessings to all present, as well as the people we seek to serve in our lives.
She explained that because justice is born in our attitudes to life, people and creation, it is primarily a spirituality that we live, not just something that we do.
“We are not presenting today as an academic lecture, but in the context of music and prayer, in an afternoon of reflection, learning and, we hope, conversion,” she said.
The document, which has never been translated into Chinese, was presented by Father Stephen Chan Mun-hung, from the Justice and Peace Commission, who pointed out that it is essentially pastoral in its content and not academic.
Father Chan noted that it is not a document from the synod meeting itself, but was written subsequently by the bishops as their reflection on their time together.
“It is the first significant document produced after the end of Vatican II,” he noted.
He said that it reflects the beginnings of an understanding among bishops that they do have a responsibility for the affairs of the world.
“Even though it is not a papal document,” Father Chan pointed out, “it is no less significant.”
He added, “It was written as a consultative paper for the pope, to advise him, but it also carries the ideas of the pope of the time (Pope Paul VI)”.
He described the document as being pastoral and easy to read. “It is a document of action,” he said, “not academia.”
Father Chan added that understanding the profile of the bishops who were present is important, as many of them had come from former colonies of western powers and had seen development interrupted by the violence of civil wars, ethnic tension and the invasion of a new type of coloniser, international conglomerate companies.
“It is not about the meaning of justice in the world, but about the political will of people to be prepared to address injustice,” he explained.
“It contains the beautiful ideology of building a new world. The Catholic Church was addressing how to put this ideology into practice,” Father Chan continued.
Taking up the concept addressed by Poon in her introduction, the Franciscan priest noted that justice is not just about carrying out the conditions of contract, but ensuring that the people get what they deserve, as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.
“It is not a list, but an approach to people,” he explained. “It is carried out by having good will towards others and working for the common good.”
He noted that this is the justice of the scriptures, which view God as the liberator of the oppressed and defender of the poor, later embodied in Jesus, who is seen as their saviour and liberator.
He described the integral parts of justice as being charity, education and development, especially in liturgical life. “Liturgy is another name, for justice,” he pointed out.
“In The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), Vatican II speaks of the relationship between development and the liturgy, as together with the sacraments, it can play a vital role in educating people for justice.”
The afternoon was interspersed with reflective music provided by the Emmanuel Apostolatus community, which sang about who is our neighbour and why we should take an interest in them, adding that we cannot hide, but must make a choice about where we stand in relation to the people around us.
The convener of the apostolate, Kenneth Tsao Kin-yip, described the 10-year-old group as part of the new evangelisation.
“We have worked with government departments, parishes, groups and schools,” he said. “We try to bring peace to people through our songs, and bring the spirit of God and the gospels through music, dialogue and development for the mutual understanding of peace.”
He described the basic choice all people must make in life as being between God and Mammon. “So it is important to pray for the good in our lives, so we can witness through example,” Tsao said.
In describing the work of the Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples, Poon drew a parallel with the document, Justice in the World, saying it works to give people the skills to address the injustices that they are subjected to in their lives.
She described her organisation as having a network throughout Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, as well as India, Sri Lanka and other parts of Asia, through which this is done.
The two groups presented the guest of honour for the day, Bishop John Tong Hon, with a wooden figurine from the capital city of land mines, Vientiane, in Laos.
Tsao pointed out that each figure has one foot missing. “It is calling to mind of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been injured by land mines which still litter the countryside of Laos and Cambodia,” he explained.
In his response, Bishop Tong said, “We need to be with people in justice and love for every continent. Other people are our brothers and sisters, so we should live so all can have enough.”
He spoke about the new poverty of a modern society, where the entire focus is on the material, which he explained breeds poverty, as it has no aim, no connection with people.
Bishop Tong also reflected on his childhood days under the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, when his family fled to Guangdong, saying that these experiences are still real for many people in the world and there is a great need for forgiveness for the wrongs of the past, so people can move forward in justice.
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