CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Is ecumenism a non-event in our Churches?

HONG KONG (SE): Some years ago, the then-dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Hong Kong, Father Andrew Chan, said at an ecumenical prayer gathering that Jesus’ prayer that all may be one, shows that he worried about unity among his disciples, and so we should worry as well.

But the findings of a recent study on ecumenical attitudes among rank and file Christians in Hong Kong compounds this worry, as it reveals that around 20 per cent of them have never heard of the ecumenical movement, with four to five per cent against it and 10 per cent with no opinion about it.

The findings of the study carried out by the Centre for Catholic Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong were released during the Tenth Annual Gathering of the Ecclesiological Investigation International Research Network that was hosted by the Ming Hua Theological College and the Centre for Catholic Studies from June 20 to 24.

The results of the study show that over one-third of the 5,100 Christians who responded to a questionnaire, do not know about, understand or approve of the efforts of their Churches to foster closer relations among the various traditions.

The organisers of the study commented that this shows that a lot more formation work needs to be done, especially among young people, to promote the importance of the ecumenical movement in making Christ’s prayer that all may be one a reality.

The international meeting on ecclesiological studies is held every year to encourage research and dialogue in forming stronger relations among Churches.

It also has the aim of promoting a more inclusive Church, as it believes that this is the only type of Church that can be viable in the society of today.

The findings of the study were presented on June 22 at a day hosted by the Catholic Studies Centre at the Shatin campus of the Chinese University.

Coordinated by the supervisor of the centre, Father Louis Ha Ke-loon, the study is part of the worldwide preparation for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation next year.

Carried out in May, around 75 per cent of those who responded were Catholic, with 19 per cent Protestant and 0.2 per cent belonging to Orthodox Churches.

Nearly 66 per cent of respondents said they support the ecumenical movement, but the remaining one-third presents Churches with a big challenge.

The most popular reason chosen for support (2,856) was that Christians should work towards accepting one another and becoming more closely united.

Bearing a stronger witness in society was the next most chosen reason (2,110), followed by the fact that Christian Churches do share many common core beliefs, so they should complement one another in their pastoral and teaching ministries (2,036).

The 162 respondents who said that they do not agree with the ecumenical movement cited the big discrepancies in doctrine and liturgical practice, as well as in the area of biblical interpretation.

Of them, 120 said that because Churches hold different core beliefs, it is better to work separately. A further 63 said that since Christians do not know much about the movement, they are not really prepared for it.

About 12 per cent of respondents were 30 or below, with 54 per cent 46 or above. Over half had been baptised for more than 21 years. Nearly 70 per cent said they did not take part in any Church services, while 40 per cent said they are involved in four to five Church activities a month.

Denis Kwong Chi-wing, from the Centre for Catholic Studies, said even though young people only accounted for a small percentage of the respondents, they had relatively less knowledge about ecumenism.

He suggested that Christian dominations put more effort into promoting ecumenism in their pastoral and formation ministries.

Twenty-five people, both Protestant and Catholic, were recruited to carry out the survey, as well as interview groups that promote ecumenism, like the Diocesan Ecumenical Commission and the Hong Kong Christian Council.

Choi Wai-man, from the Centre for Catholic Studies, quoted some respondents as saying they found it difficult to promote the ecumenical movement, as doctrine in various denominations varies, so it is difficult for people to reach any consensus in discussion.

In addition, some denominations do not give ecumenism a high priority, so she believes it is necessary to make the promotion of ecumenism a year-round-thing, so more people may come to see its importance.

Tong Kar-wai, who has a doctorate degree in juridical science, said the Catholic Church has held an open attitude on ecumenism since Vatican II in the 1960s.

He explained that he can see how both the Catholic and Protestant Churches have dedicated themselves to promoting ecumenical relations and he hopes that research being done at the centre can contribute to its development in Hong Kong.

Reverend Po Kam-cheong, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Christian Council, said one way for Protestant Churches to promote ecumenism is to join the council.

However, he observed that there are some denominations which, while maintaining friendly relationships with other Christian Churches, do not agree with the rationale of the ecumenical movement and refuse to take part in it.

Yuen Yuet-hing said the study shows that young Christians rarely join ecumenical gatherings.

She added that she believes Christian denominations should pay more attention to promoting a better understanding of Church history among young people, especially on more significant events, like the Reformation.

The Ecclesiological Network gathering was held at Ming Hua Theological College in Central and the Centre for Catholic Studies under the theme of Christianity and Religions in China: Past, present and future.

The principal organisers were Georgetown University, Ming Hua Theological College, the Centre for Catholic Studies and the Ricci Institute in Macau and Taipei.

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