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Permanent deaconate has long way to go in China

HONG KONG (AsiaNews): For what is believed to have been the first time the Church in China has begun a discussion on the possibility of establishing the permanent deaconate.

While the permanent deaconate has grown in Hong Kong and is open to both married and single men, a September 6 to 9 gathering of the Council of Chinese Bishops was the first occasion on which it has been formally discussed in China.

Around 50 people from 14 provinces, but mostly from Hebei, Sichuan, Shandong and Beijing, attended the gathering and the vicar general from Hong Kong, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, was invited to attend, along with a permanent deacons, Reverend Edwin Ng Wing-hung and Reverend Louis Wong Chin-to

Father Chan said that among the Chinese people participating at the gathering, there were some who believe the time has come to promote the deaconate in China, but others were more hesitant, wanting to put it off for eight or 10 years.

He explained that sitting at the heart of the apostolic ministry is the bishop with the priests helping  him in sacramental service and education, but permanent deacons are called to live in close contact with society. 

“This meeting in Beijing,” he added, “is but a seed sown which may grow. The diocese of Hong Kong is offering its to support their efforts.”

Reverend Ng confessed that it was the first time for him to have met bishops and priests in China. 

He reflected, “Their notion of the permanent deaconate is perhaps rooted in a pre-Vatican II concept. If they want to promote this service, they have to find some good methods of education.”

Reverend Ng was ordained a permanent deacon 10 years ago and his main commitment has been in prison ministry and correctional institutions for minors.

The most senior Hong Kong deacon is Reverend Joseph Yung Wai-chung, who is now 83-years-old. He was ordained in 2002. 

Today he serves in a parish and in addition to pastoral duties, he continues to visit prisoners, as well as offer his company to elderly patients in nursing homes.

Hong Kong has benefited from the experience of permanent deacons since 1993, but in the beginning there were some obstacles, as 80 per cent of the priests were opposed to it.

But the bishop at the time, John Baptist Cardinal Wu Cheng-chung decided to go ahead anyway.

Hong Kong was the first diocese in Asia to institute the permanent deaconate. It was followed by India in 2006.

Currently, there are 26 permanent deacons throughout the territory.

Married candidates to the deaconate must first obtain the written agreement of their wives, they are then subjected to several interviews with formation directors before they can be admitted to study at the seminary and gain pastoral experience in parishes.

Although often thought of as an assistant to priests or a substitute for priests when vocation numbers are low, the permanent deaconate is a specific vocation, as it is an ordained ministry in everyday society and has its own unique challenge to Christian witness.

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