CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 December 2017

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The time is near

The quietly spoken, mild mannered bishop of Hong Kong is due to step down from his position when he turns 78 on July 31. For reasons best known to minds across the world in the Vatican, when he tendered his resignation as required prior to his 75th birthday, his offer was rejected and his term extended for a further three years, but with the rider it would not be extended again.
 
However, the eight years John Cardinal Tong Hon spent as the leader of the Church in Hong Kong have been highly eventful ones.
 
Although coming into the job with the promise of equitable relations with both the governments of the special administrative region and the mainland, the road he has been called to tread was never smooth.
 
A succession of appeals to the Hong Kong government over working and living conditions in the territory, as well as for greater development in democracy continually fell on deaf ears and culminated in a last ditch appeal to the newly selected chief executive to scrap a suggested religious unit in the local government.
 
The Umbrella Movement was also a great challenge, as it was fundamentally a call for greater democracy and many people from his flock were deeply involved, while at the same time a goodly section was either strongly against the massed gathering or ambivalent.
 
A difficult area in which to find a balance, he was left accused by some of doing too little and others of doing too much.
 
He also inherited a diocese at loggerheads with the government over the administration of Catholic schools and oversaw unsuccessful appeals to the Courts of Appeals and Final Appeal in an attempt to have the Legislative Council revise its legislation.
 
Nevertheless, true to his own person, he responded positively and with grace, always expressing his deeply held belief that goodness and virtue would eventually triumph over violence and evil.
 
In his state of the nation addresses during parish visitation he told stories of the strength of trust and fidelity, telling of the decision by the diocese prior to the handover not to move its documents out of Hong Kong and, on an individual level, the one faithful woman who stood as a lonely figure on a railway station in China and was rewarded with the return of her husband from a labour camp.
 
His belief shone brightly when in the face of much criticism he encouraged people to trust in the wisdom of the Vatican and credibility of Beijing in their current series of talks, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in the way of any resolution.
 
Pending a final Vatican decision, when he finally does step down, like every bishop he will leave with most issues unresolved, but like the man that he is will hand the reins onto his successor to take up the challenges in his own way.
 
Although strong and ruthless when he wants to be, Cardinal Tong will be remembered as a gentle and humble man with a trusting, loving heart.
 
No doubt in retirement he will continue to shoot a few baskets on his favourite basketball court, but even more surely will remain involved in the support of his first love, the Catholic people of China. JiM