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It is tough at the top

On August 1, the Holy See announced that it has accepted the retirement of the current bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, and that he is to be succeeded automatically by his coadjutor, Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung.
While a change in the leadership at the top of the diocese is always a matter of much interest, often preceded by a period of intense speculation, in one sense it is of little consequence, yet in another, it is vital for the Church.
Many Catholic people live their whole lives without taking the slightest interest in who their bishop is or having any inclination to find out, yet their faith remains strong and matures over the years.
In fact, what bishops and priests do, say or think has little impact on the faith life of the people, as it is something far more indefinable and intangible than human flesh and blood can inspire.
As scripture scholar, Father John MacKenzie SJ, pointed out the embarrassing thing for any preacher is the knowledge that the faith of the listener is not affected by his words and thrives irrespective of whether the preacher has faith or not.
But on the level of the face that the local Church presents to wider society and the community witness to the presence of God among the people, leadership at the top is a matter of great importance.
Sporting teams place great stress on on-field leadership, as the captain is expected to provide inspiration, engender unity of purpose and coherence of game plan.
A great captain is able to inspire even the moderately talented to punch above their weight. It is captains of moderately talented teams that excel who receive the greatest accolades.
But captains of sporting teams have one big advantage over a bishop—handpicked players, chosen deliberately to play particular roles that dovetail into a rounded team performance.
This is a privilege that a bishop does not enjoy. He takes what he gets: the hot, the cold and the tepid. He inherits a wide variety of worldviews among his flock, with an even wider variety of expectation from their Church.
But the Church’s business is the mission of God, something which must be discerned according to the particular circumstances of the diocese.
We have a pope today who is pushing the Church to be more among the people, to be a place of refuge for the displaced, the rejected and the lonely, or as Caritas puts it: the last, the lost and the least, but these are difficult challenges.
They require charisma and expertise, the ability to channel and guide; make decisions about where resources are placed and what exactly the diocese is able to take on effectively, as well as sketch a dream, coax and inspire others to embrace the mission of the moment, as well as resource them for the challenges.
And none of this can be done in a vacuum, but requires cooperation with secular society, constructive relations with government, the business sector and the general public.
It is a big ask of any leader and if for no other reason, it is why Bishop Yeung is worthy of our prayer. JiM