CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 June 2018

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Twenty years on Chinese turf


As the special administrative region of Hong Kong prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, the Church can look back at a period first marked by apprehension, then surprise and finally wonder.
No one knew what to expect as the clock wound down to 1 July 1997. There was apprehension and fear that the new masters of the British colony may be proactive in clipping Church wings that had become accustomed to flying freely.
Many Catholic organisations thought seriously about moving to Bangkok or Manila and several did, or at least got their files and archives out of town.
The diocese thought about moving its archives too, but ultimately decided to trust, as in all events, the Church had to learn how to relate and operate in the yet unknown environment it would find itself in.
But despite many ups and downs, the 20 years on Chinese turf has seen a surprising period of growth for the Church, with adult baptisms and membership increasing substantially.
But vocations to the priesthood and religious life have remained few, as in other parts of the world, and at one stage the diocese had more bishops than seminarians!
While this remains an issue, a flourishing lay ministry, with a highly active catechumenate and involvement in social service, ecumenical movements and parish life is reflected in the growth of new members.
However, the positive sides of the equation do not receive as much scrutiny and attention as the difficulties that the Church has faced during these 20 years.
Less than a decade into the new era, the diocese was at loggerheads with the administration over school management, fearing a new ordinance would rob it of its influence in their day-to-day running. The saga dragged on for several years until the final nail was put in the diocese's coffin by the Court of Final Appeal.
On the political front challenges took longer to emerge, but Beijing's reneging on universal suffrage has been met with strong opposition both from the leadership of the diocese and many in the pews. Catholics have been heavily involved in promoting the one person one vote model.
This came to a head with the Umbrella Movement in 2014, which, as the continued attempts to demonise, belittle and ridicule illustrate, remains a defining moment in Hong Kong's political life.
But Catholics in Hong Kong are like Catholics anywhere and their political affiliations are defined more by background, social class and personal interest than ideology, and while segments in the Church were highly supportive of the movement, others were ambivalent or opposed, leaving some complaining the Church did too much and others too little.
But the apprehension of the pre-handover days is returning, as Beijing tightens the screws not only on the political process, but also on freedom of media and freedom of speech.
The third member of this triumvirate is religion and a suggestion from the next chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, to introduce a religious unit in government implies that it is still on the agenda, Even if it does not happen tomorrow it leaves plenty of reason to wonder what may be lying in wait for a future that could be increasingly precarious. JiM