CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 June 2018

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Dialogue is indispensable for peaceful co-existence Cardinal Tong says

“I believe that time will prove he (Pope Francis) is right, even if it is after his death. History will prove him right,” said John Cardinal Tong Hon, the former bishop of Hong Kong. 
 
In an interview given to America magazine in mid-March, the cardinal said that Pope Francis promotes the Holy See’s negotiations with China for the good of the Church and for the whole of humanity. 
 
In the recent months, many have questioned the wisdom of the Holy See’s apparent readiness to sign an agreement with the Chinese government on the nomination of bishops, precisely at a time when China is cracking down on religion, severely tightening administrative directives on religious groups and imposing harsh penalties for failure to respect the new directives. 
 
Cardinal Tong said that Pope Francis is following an inclusive approach to China. That is, he wants no one excluded, the faithful of both the official and the unofficial Church communities, even including the Communists as friends, just as Saint John XXIII did in his day. 
 
It is important to understand the underlying principle of Pope Francis’ vision: “God is the Lord of human history, while today’s rulers are only temporary lords,” he said. 
 
America quoted the cardinal as saying, “in the long run what is reasonable, what is right, what is good for the whole of humanity, will win.” He said he shared the view of the late John Cardinal Baptist Wu—the bishop of Hong Kong from 1974 to 2002. 
 
In the face of the adversities of his day, he said Cardinal Wu’s attitude was that “one should see these things as only for a limited period, take the broader vision and the longer future and not allow ourselves to be limited by certain incidents that happen.”
 
Cardinal Tong recognises that not everyone shares his optimistic reading of the Sino-Vatican agreement. In an extensive article published in the Sunday Examiner on 9 February 2017 he sought to address these concerns, including those about the lack of complete freedom for the Church and for other religions under the Communist regime. 
 
“If Beijing is now ready to reach an agreement on the appointment of bishops with the Holy See, the Church in China will enjoy an essential freedom, albeit it not complete freedom,” he wrote in 2017. On the other hand, “if the Church gives up the present essential freedom, she may not gain more, but might end up losing all her freedom.”
 
As a religious institution, he said, the Catholic Church in China “is not political and has no political aspirations.” Its concern and that of the Holy See is whether there is enough room for freedom of religion in China for the Church to be able to practice its faith.
 
The cardinal then wrote about the difficult options available for the Holy See today in its dialogue with China: “The choices in front of us are either to embrace the essential freedom now and become an imperfect, but true Church, then struggle for complete freedom in the hope of moving towards a perfect Church, or we give up essential freedom and have nothing at all and then wait for complete freedom—but no one knows when this will ever happen.”
 
Cardinal Tong was in Rome for a conference on Christianity in the Chinese Society: Impact, Interaction and Inculturation, at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in Rome on March 22 and 23 (Sunday Examiner, April 1). Before the conference, he spoke to America and the cardinal attributed the progress being made by the Holy See in its negotiations with China to three characteristics that are hallmarks of Pope Francis’ papacy: “be humble...be knowledgeable and visionary...be inclusive.” The cardinal believes these three features “can also be applied to the Holy Father’s attitude to the Holy See-Chinese dialogue” that started in 2014.
 
Cardinal Tong was personally touched by the humility of Pope Francis during the conclave when then-Jorge Cardinal Bergoglio was elected pope in March 2013. 
 
When he went to express his obedience to the new pope and presented him with a small bronze statue of Our Lady of Sheshan, Pope Francis responded by kissing both his hand and the statue. A few days later, the pope told him that he had placed the statue on his desk and that he prays every day for China. 
 
According to the Second Vatican Council, God is active in human history, in the whole of society. According to this faith, God is active in China today, and it is with this vision that Pope Francis relates to Beijing, Cardinal Tong says.
 
He believes that in its relations with China, the Holy See “should set a good example for the whole world, so we do not do the things only for China but for the whole world, so that the whole world finally can be friends, shake hands, be brothers and become one family.”
 
America reported that two days after giving his interview, Cardinal Tong welcomed participants to the symposium that was held in Rome for the first time, in what observers read as a clear sign of an improvement in Sino-Vatican relations. The event brought together religious, academic and political figures from China and the West.
 
Participants included Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for Relations with States, and retired Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, the Vatican’s top expert on China, Bishop Yang Xiaoting, rector of the national seminary in Beijing and vice-president of the Chinese Catholic bishops’ conference, a body not recognised by the Holy See. 
 
In his address, Cardinal Tong emphasised that dialogue “is an indispensable feature in our modern world.” He reminded participants that “if we see only our own reasons, and insist on our own experience as the norm, thereby denying the basis of other people’s experience, then disagreement, quarrels and even wars will be inevitable, whether amongst individuals, communities, nations, states, or religions. As a result, our zeal for pursuing the truth will, ironically, become a chasm for separating us.”
 
His hope for the Sino-Vatican dialogue is that, “when we are willing to listen to each other and to feel how each other feels, the experience of the other party will give us a new understanding of the world, life, and society,” which “will greatly enrich our own culture, thereby contributing to the peaceful co-existence of all human beings.”

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