CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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With an eye for a Church of the poor

HONG KONG (SE): Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung spoke with a simplicity and honesty about his new position in his first meeting with the media as bishop of the city on August 2.
In a prepared statement, he thanked his predecessor, John Cardinal Tong Hon, for his half a century of service to the people of Hong Kong then quietly outlined care for the last, the least and the lost as his major pastoral priority for the coming years.
But as bishop, he will lead a Church that by self-definition does not exist for its own benefit, but to serve the world and, consequently has responsibilities both to its own members and towards the whole of society in terms of its social outreach and clearly proclaiming its teachings and beliefs, which are representative of a significant percentage of the population.
In his statement, Bishop Yeung spoke of himself as a leader of a Church of the poor, saying that he would continue where his predecessors have left off in reaching out to the marginalised and the neglected, as well as place great emphasis on addressing what he termed relational poverty, an emerging form of deprivation common to all modern, sprawling cities of the world.
Bishop Yeung said that he believes that the Church has a responsibility to offer space in which those who are lost or depressed can find the freedom to search for their true selves and help resource them to reorient their lives.
Born in Shanghai in 1945, Bishop Yeung fled with his family to Hong Kong when he was four-years-old. He confessed that as a young child just beginning school he could not get his head around his studies, instead spending his time at play.
It reached a stage where his teacher was so worried about him, she come to visit his parents.
He related that he was aware his mother knew he was embarrassed and angry, and that he expected to be scolded. However, she responded quite differently, simply saying that it was time for dinner and in that way, allowed young Yeung the space to get his head together a bit.
In this context, he said that one of his dreams would be to find ways to create this type of space in Hong Kong for people that are harrowed and hassled, as in this pressure cooker society there is precious little room for people to move in.
He spoke of some of the social problems that emerge from this tension, saying that he believes that broken families and those in their sunset years struggle to find an insertion point in society, but he believes the Church is capable of providing platforms from which they can eventually recover their dignity and even become wounded healers for others.
Bishop Yeung said that he believes this especially affects the older echelons of the community and he hopes that as bishop, he can facilitate parishes in setting up platforms to elevate the status of the aging in a way that can reinforce their dignity as valuable assets in the community that really do have something to contribute.
He added that the young people of the city are caught in much the same situation, as they are facing problems over employment, social mobility and housing, all of which he described as unresolved issues in society that are not of their own making.
His hope is that the Church can be involved in creating ways to give them an outlet for their hatred, discontent and disappointment and, his even bigger hope is that the government may find in itself the ability to listen to their voice and understand what lies behind their discontent.
“Our elderly people need to feel dignified and valued,” he explained. “We must also care about our younger generation... Not all of them want to fight the government, they just need to express their discontent and those in power have to listen.”
But while his predecessor, Cardinal Tong, had made much of the role of Hong Kong as a bridge Church between China and the universal Church, Bishop Yeung said that currently he sees this as extremely difficult, as political tension calls for great care in taking a step, but nevertheless, “We are willing to be a bridge and I always think that building bridges is much more important than building fences. If there is any way we can help to maintain a dialogue, we will be willing to do so.”
However, he noted that Hong Kong has been excluded from the current talks between the Holy See and Beijing and in reality there is often precious little that a bishop can do beyond making statements.
However, if given the opportunity he will act.
He also gave recognition to separation of Church and state in saying that endorsing or blacklisting any candidate in a civic election is not the business of the Church, but that commenting on various policies put forward and encouraging people to study the platforms of candidates, then voting according to their conscience, is.
As the media probed Bishop Yeung for his opinions on various issues in Hong Kong, he stated that he will speak when human dignity is at stake or on matters that threaten the welfare of people in the territory.
On specific issues, he described the 4 June 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square as a tragedy whose pain still lingers in the souls of people and that he has profound respect for the students who made the sacrifice in the hope of a better life for all.
In a similar way, he said he greatly admires Liu Xiaobo, who spoke for what he believed in and paid a high price for his honesty but, as with calls for the vindication of those who died in Tiananmen his cause has hit a brick wall, but the world must embrace the sacrifices of yesteryear and continue the search for what can be done in the present.
He also expressed a personal hope that the barriers that stand in the way of a free election for the chief executive of Hong Kong will be done away with and the way paved for universal suffrage in the special administrative region.
While a few ghosts from the past were brought up, Bishop Yeung admitted that he may have to watch his choice of words more carefully in the future, as at least one example he used in the past regarding the same-sex attracted was clumsy and led to him being misrepresented.
Reservations about his comments on the tragedy of the removal of crosses were also expressed by some pastors in Zhejiang, judging them to be too ambivalent.
But in the area the eyes of the world have been turned on, the appointment of bishops in China, after a bit of a chicken and the egg discussion regarding who should choose and who should propose, Bishop Yeung proposed that Beijing suggesting and the Vatican appointing is the only one of the two options acceptable to the Church.
As a 72-year-old coming into the job who has been receiving medical treatment, Bishop Yeung said he is quietly confident that his health is good, as treatment has been effective and, although he runs an 8.00am to 8.00pm workday, he manages well.
But as the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, the future is an unknown and only time will reveal what will transpire during the years this bishop remains in his position.
However, the straight honesty Bishop Yeung showed suggests that whatever else, he will call it as he sees it and what you see is what you’ll get.

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