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Homily of John Cardinal Tong at his Mass of Thanksgiving
Some scholars have pointed out that according to psychological analysis, success in life must have three attributes: acceptance, adaption and achievement.
These three words begin with letter A. One who is equipped with these three attributes can be regarded as having a life with three aces.
Here, we can apply these attributes of a faithful life to ourselves as Christians, or to our religious life as seminarians, religious sisters or clergy.
Therefore, for us, the first condition is to open ourselves to receive God’s call and mission.
The second is to keep praying, reading the bible, deepening our spirituality and studying philosophy and theology, as well as catechetics.
This enables us to catch up with the times, to adapt to the environment, to achieve the mission of evangelisation and the pastoral ministry.
The third condition indicates that religious life is no empty talk, but requires practice and implementation until the end of our lives.
Reminiscing on the past, I found myself turning these three attributes over in my mind. Fortunately, with God’s blessing and the help of friends, I remain on this journey of priestly life. I hope you will continue to pray for me.
Now, let me share with you some of my life-experiences and reflections.
I was born in Hong Kong. But at the age of two, the Second World War broke out and the then-British colony was invaded by Japanese troops.
My family fled to Macau, a neighbouring city and at that time a Portuguese enclave, before escaping to Guangzhou in southern China.
After the war, my family settled down in Guangzhou. I was just six-years-old and was a primary one student.
Four-and-a-half-years later, the Communist regime settled itself over the whole of China and swiftly launched campaigns against rich peasants and landlords.
Also, the foreign missionaries in China were expelled. My family belonged to a parish run by to the American Maryknoll missionary priests.
Along with other foreign missionaries, the Maryknoll priests were also on the list for expulsion.
At that time, the Guangzhou diocese was intensely aware of the urgency to look for and train successors for their older priests. The priests then turned to us, the young altar boys.
They persuaded us to go to the seminary.
We were promised a safe journey from Guangzhou to the minor seminary in the Macau.
The hope was that in the future, after we were ordained priests, we could return to mainland China to be the successors of the older priests.
My parents immediately agreed and entrusted my future to the priests. They thought that it was a good chance to escape the possibly difficult circumstances.
On the evening of 12 February 1951, the eve of the closed door policy in China (without government approval, no one would leave mainland China), I left China with five other altar boys.
Led by a priest, we boarded a ship for Macau. We landed in Macau and entered St. Joseph Seminary. Then the priest returned to Guangzhou.
As a teenager, my understanding of priestly life was not that mature and I did have doubts about my vocation from time to time. After finishing formation in the minor seminary, I entered the Regional Seminary in Hong Kong.
After three years of philosophical studies, with the consent of my spiritual advisor and the permission of the rector, I took temporary leave from the seminary. This allowed me to experience life in society.
In those days, there was no pastoral exposure programme or pastoral experience year during seminary formation.
Under the guidance of the Lord and the assistance of friends, I finally returned to the seminary after a short period of time.
Thereafter, I continued the study of theology. When I was ordained a priest, I was firm about my priestly vocation. At that point, I fully appreciated the openness and faith in God of Our Lady, who said to the angel Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
I also appreciated the father of the boy in today’s gospel reading, who cried out to Jesus, “I do believe. Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). This highlights the phase of acceptance in the journey of my priestly life.
In 1970, after I had finished my studies in Rome, I returned to work in the diocese of Hong Kong and was assigned to teach dogmatic theology at the seminary.
From 1980 until today, I have also served as the director of the Holy Spirit Study Centre of the diocese.
The centre helps people deepen their understanding of the Church in China and promotes communion and unity among the Catholics in China. Moreover, I have served as rector of Holy Spirit Seminary for 10 years.
I have benefited greatly from all these experiences. I am most grateful for having been able to live in the seminary for more than 41 years.
So, every day I follow closely the daily schedule of the seminary: getting up with the seminarians, doing meditation in the chapel, adoration of the blessed sacrament, concelebrating the Eucharist and reciting vespers before the evening meal.
Besides participating in diocesan retreats for clerics, the seminary’s daily schedule not only helps me to keep up my personal spiritual life, but also provides me with an opportunity to implement the four aspects of priestly formation articulated in Blessed Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (I Shall Give You Shepherds).
The four aspects are: humanitarian, spiritual, philosophical and theological, as well as pastoral ministry.
This reminds me of the words of Confucius, an ancient Chinese sage, who said, “Just as you would like to establish yourself in the world, so allow others to establish themselves. Just as you seek to understand things, so allow others the same opportunity” (己立立人，己達達人).
This briefly summarises the period of adjustment in the journey of my priestly life.
I am now 72 years of age. Up until now, my life has still not come to an end. I must spare no effort in continuing faithfully on the road of my priestly vocation.
Therefore, I pray every day, many times, Psalm 23, which is entitled, The Lord is my Shepherd.
I pray that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, will guide me to follow him closely. I also place before myself the good example of Blessed Pope John Paul as inspiration.
I recall that the Holy Father, who suffered severely from Parkinson’s disease during his last days, was still loyal to his mission and faithfully carried out his pastoral responsibility to the very end.
Although he was too feeble to speak, he still walked with assistance to the window, so that he could bless the pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square. This was a touching scene for me.
This can best be described as, “Silence is better than words.” In order to achieve God’s call and the mission entrusted to me, perseverance is really an indispensable gift, which I always ask God to grant me in the journey of my priestly life.
Being installed as a member of the College of Cardinals, may I once again express my sincere thanks to the Holy Father.
The appointment shows the Holy Father’s great love and concern for the Catholics in China, as well as an encouragement to the diocese of Hong Kong.
In facing these new challenges, I will continue to respond with an attitude of acceptance, adjustment and achievement.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude to the formation staff at the Collegio Urbano, my alma mater.
From 1964 to 1966, this college nourished me with valuable formation for my priesthood.
In addition, our batch of 69 classmates (though some are resting in peace) has been in close contact for decades and is even in touch with one another today.
We often encourage one another through correspondence and email. Some representatives from among them are present today among us. I feel very grateful to them.
My thanks to all of you for taking time to attend this Eucharist. Let us continue to pray for each other in the Lord and offer one another mutual encouragement. May God bless you all!
Pontificio Collegio Urbano
20 February 2012