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Baptism is beginning of the long haul

At a Mass on March 3 welcoming John Cardinal Tong Hon back from Rome as a cardinal, the bishop of Hong Kong outlined his four pastoral concerns: evangelisation, promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, care for non-Chinese Catholics living in the local diocese and the Church in China.

He put evangelisation as the top of his priority list and highlighted it as something that all pastors and parishioners should commit themselves to.

This Easter, over 3,400 adults are scheduled to receive the sacrament of baptism. In recent years, the number of adults coming into the Church has increased from 3,016 in 2010 and 3,156 last year.

This is a result of the witness of the faith lives of people in the diocese and the effort on behalf of many people to welcome new people into their communities.

However, while we may jump for joy over numbers, we should be more concerned about the pastoral care for these new Catholics. Every year, catechumens look forward to receiving baptism. However, after a period of time some lose enthusiasm and drift away.

While there are many reasons why this may happen, it is a common enough phenomena to prompt parishes to make ongoing outreach to these people a priority on their lists of things to do.

Parishes normally introduce new Catholics to parish groups or small faith communities. However, these functional associations can fail to respond to their needs in on-going faith formation.

In addition, the role of godparents, which is supposed to be vital in accompanying new Catholics, is not always followed up adequately.

On the diocesan level, efforts have been made to promote various kinds of formative activities for new Catholics, but it can be one of those things where enough can never be enough.

Nevertheless, it is still fair to ask if our goals have been met? Hindsight tells us that we still have a long way to go.

The Year of the Laity, which was launched in 2010, was extended into 2012. A survey conducted on Catholic faith life in real contexts by the preparatory committee concluded, “The spiritual life of the faithful is the weakest aspect of their faith lives.”

The findings suggest that there is a need to strengthen awareness of Catholic identity starting from the catechumenate.

The suggests, “Formation of the awareness of Catholic identity is a lengthy process which requires a long period of time and many companions.”

In other words, committed people are needed and this is not an easy ask.

We are suggesting that parishes should look among the graduates of the catechist training courses or the Institute of Religious Sciences of the Holy Spirit Seminary College for support.

Ongoing formation also needs to be on the menu for new Catholics as one part of pastoral planning in parishes. This is indeed a challenge.

The Year of the Faith, which will begin at the end of this year, is a good opportunity to reflect on the current direction of pastoral formation of the diocese.

This will enable us to review the past few years and explore whether there is an alternative to the customary talks, seminars and meetings. Is it possible to pursue a more effective and feasible direction? SE