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New cardinal shares on his vision for Hong Kong
HONG KONG (AsiaNews): “I feel very unworthy of this position. But I am also grateful for the honour,” Bishop John Tong Hong told AsiaNews on the eve of his elevation to the rank of cardinal, which took place in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on February 18.
“I have no reason to deserve this. It was a decision of the Holy Father, who wants to show his appreciation for the Church in China. It is a real encouragement for the Church of Hong Kong, which will continue its role as a bridge Church for the faithful of mainland China,” the cardinal-designate from Hong Kong said.
As the first Hong Kong-born cardinal in history, Bishop Tong expressed gratitude to the two living Chinese cardinals, 90-year-old Paul Cardinal Shan Kuo-his, from Taiwan, and his predecessor as the bishop of Hong Kong, the 80-year-old Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun.
“We can benefit from an older person’s wisdom,” he said. “Cardinal Zen is still working hard and with determination. We respect his opinion and his wisdom.”
He added that Cardinal Shan in Taiwan is still holding retreats and conferences in retirement.
The 72-year-old cardinal-designate explained that the position of his diocese of Hong Kong as a bridge Church with China has developed in a new way over the past 20 years, as there is now two-way traffic between the mainland and the special administrative region.
”In fact there is a two-way exchange,” he said. “Hong Kong now, rather than a bridge Church, can be considered a sister-Church to China. We do not know what harvest all of this sowing will yield, but hopefully it will be an abundant one.”
He added that he believes that the Vatican Commission on China, which was launched in the wake of the June 2007 letter of Pope Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics, has also produced many results.
“The letter informs the government that the Church has no political aims or interests, but encourages its members to improve their nation and make an active contribution to society,” he explained.
He added that it also highlights the need for better formation of all Catholics in China, especially the priests and sisters who bear much of the responsibility for the formation of the laity.
However, while the media and some groups place huge stress on the formation of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Beijing, the cardinal-designate said that he believes this is only one element in the overall issue.
He told AsiaNews that the division between the official and unofficial communities of the Church in China has always been a big stumbling block, but even in this area, there has been improvement over the years since the pope penned his letter.
“There are still tensions and attacks,” he noted, “especially on the part of the underground community—but they are very small compared with the past.”
He explained that another area of deep concern is the continued detention of bishops, priests and some Catholic people on the mainland, and he is trying to address this by fostering a better rapport or relationship with the Chinese authorities.
He said that he is especially concerned about the fate of two aged bishops, Bishop James Su Zhimin and Bishop Cosma Shi Enxiang.
“I would begin to express my concerns about the imprisonment of these two bishops,” he continued, noting that when he was invited to attend the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games he was able to say that he was happy to be there and that the games opened the opportunity to bring glory to the nation.
“Once we established a minimum of trust, I told them that being Catholic I was worried about the Chinese bishops in prison and explained to them that this fact is not good for the nation,” he continued.
“At the same time, with their release, China may enjoy the highest of reputations in the international community,” the cardinal-designate said.
On February 20, Cardinal Tong celebrated a Mass at his alma mater in Rome, the Pontificio Collegio Urbano, for friends and the members of the delegation who travelled from Hong Kong for the occasion of his elevation to the ranks of cardinal.
The full text of his homily is published on page 12 of this issue of the Sunday Examiner.
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