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Rekindling the spirit of Archbishop Romero
HONG KONG (SE): The Justice and Peace Commission held a double-barrelled celebration to mark the 40th anniversary of its foundation, beginning with an afternoon study on the implications of the life of its patron, Blessed Oscar Romero, at St. Patrick’s parish in Lok Fu on March 12 and a Mass at Mary Help of Christians in Ma Tau Wei on March 18.
Speakers at the study day urged people to learn from the life of the former archbishop of San Salvador in the Latin American country of El Salvador, saying that his personal conversion that led him to throw his lot in with the poor of his land in their struggle for justice has many lessons for people in Hong Kong.
Mary Yuen Mee-yin told how Archbishop Romero had been a highly conservative priest. The son of a wealthy family, he came to see the insidious nature of what was happening in his land when his close friend, Father Rutillio Grande SJ, was assassinated in 1977 for his work in protecting the poor.
The shock of the death of his cherished friend made him aware that violence must be stopped and that the Church should protect human rights and the marginalised groups.
The archbishop became an outspoken critic of the government and railed against the poverty inflicted on the people and the manner in which the military junta suppressed human rights in the land.
He insisted on staying with the poor even though he received death threats and was assassinated in a hail of bullets while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador on 24 March 1980.
Yuen then spoke about the gathering of bishops from across Latin America in Medelin, Colombia, in 1968, which pushed for the Church to involve itself in the struggle to protect human rights and the marginalised, as these responsibilities emanate from Church teaching.
The gathering was responsible for proposing a Church with a preferential option for the poor. They also called for basic Christian communities and a concerted biblical education programme among the poor to liberate people from institutional violence.
Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing encouraged the gathering to learn from the archbishop’s humility, as well as his willingness to listen, accept challenges and repent.
Bishop Ha said the patron of the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong performed what is the duty of a bishop as a prophet speaking for the poor.
He said that he believes Catholics often lose themselves in the veneration of saints or developing their own private spirituality, instead of absorbing the social teaching of the Church on their responsibility to care about society.
He encouraged people to live out their faith through the Church’s social teaching and let others in Hong Kong society feel the love of God for humankind.
The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong added an important lesson at the Mass on March 18, pointing out that Archbishop Romero did not succeed in his mission, something which can give hope to the commission, which has not succeeded in affecting all the changes in society it has worked for either.
He said that the fundamental call is to be involved and to speak strongly for marginalised groups in society and part of the challenge is to at least recognise that the work is never finished.
Kung Lap-yan reflected on how Archbishop Romero has bequeathed “a memory of danger” to the Church in Hong Kong, as he was finally murdered after siding with the suppressed people of society and openly criticising the government and the military.
However, he explained he thinks that the memory of danger he bequeathed highlights the social problems of that time and is a challenge to people to reflect on such issues.
Kung believes his death also spoke loudly for the silenced people and made others aware of their situation.
He added that by siding with the poor, Archbishop Romero showed his conversion in faith, which then brought changes to both the Church and society in El Salvador.
He believes that although the poor may seem not to be influential in society, they are spiritual capital from a faith point of view, as they can help to disclose unjust issues in society and awaken people’s consciences.
Kung said he believes that the life and death of the archbishop has a lesson for Hong Kong today, as people’s memories of the dangers of history have been blurred or suppressed.
He spoke of the outbreak of SARS in Hong Kong in 2003, which seems to have been gradually forgotten. Another example he pointed to is a documentary about the riots in Hong Kong in 1967, which recently faced repeated attempts to have it suppressed.
He said Archbishop Romero’s concern for the poor increased radically after his conversion, which people should take as a reminder that it is not necessary to create confrontation with people over difference of opinion, but simply as an encouragement to repentance, acceptance and forgiveness.
The afternoon concluded with a ceremony led by Bishop Ha to venerate a relic of the archbishop, in which he led a prayer for society and the marginalised people of Hong Kong.
At the thanksgiving Mass Bishop Ha expanded on the theme of changing hearts. Then quoting from the story of Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for a drink, he said that Archbishop Romero had quenched the thirst of his poor flock, as many people are thirsty for the voice of the Church.
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