CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A good dose of biblical wisdom and Church social teaching can inspire a chief executive

On July 1, Leung Chun-ying will officially become the chief executive of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

His success in what is referred to as the closed election for the chief executive is not without controversy and certainly signals a shift in political power and approach to both the administration and political structure of the territory.

As common citizens, we had no right to vote in the election of the chief executive and therefore no say on who was elected.

However, we do have to live with the consequences of the governance Leung will bring, as he is now the chief executive.

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty 15 years ago. Yet even now, it does not have universal suffrage in all of its elections.

Although in the last political reform, promises were made about universal suffrage, specifically for the next chief executive in, whether it will be achieved or not depends very much on how the present government designs its election policy.

Pope John Paul II said that the Church supports democracy, as “the democratic system… ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate” (One Hundred Years [Centesimus Annus] No. 46).

True democracy can only be achieved when each and every citizen is entitled to vote. Only then will the head of the government and all who are elected listen to the voice of all the people, as they would then run the risk of losing the next election.

The right to vote must be accompanied by the right to stand in an election. Hence, any conditions that make it difficult for a person to stand in an election places a constraint on the development of true democracy.

The government, under the leadership of Leung, must put a plan forward for the 2017 election of the chief executive as soon as possible, so that there will be adequate time to solicit widely representative views on how the process of universal suffrage in Hong Kong should be developed.

In the Gospel according to St. John, we read how the high priest, Caiaphas, said to the Jewish people, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.”

This was not a statement made simply out of his own mouth. As high priest for the year, he was prophesying that Jesus would die for the nation and, not only for one nation, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

Because of the sense of dignity that Jesus’ words gave to the poor and the outcast, as well as the miracles Jesus performed, he had amassed a vast following. 

On top of this, the Jewish people were afraid that the Romans might decide to eradicate them and they certainly knew that they intended to kill Jesus.

Sacrificing the rights of a minority for the benefit of the whole group can be an attractive thought and even seem to be the right thing to do. Yet Church social teaching says otherwise.

Pope John Paul II regards the common good as the good for all and for each and every individual (SRS38-39).

This echoes what Pope John XXIII said about the common welfare, which demands that the state work to coordinate the activities of its citizens and to protect them.

In the effort to promote the rights of all citizens, civil authorities preserve a delicate balance. An excessive concern for the rights of any particular individual or minority group may well result in the principal advantages offered by the state effectively being monopolised by a small number of people.

Or again, the absurd situation can arise where the civil authorities, while taking measures to protect the rights of citizens, can end up standing in the way of the full exercise of these rights by all.

The state must never go to the extent of depriving any individual citizen of their freedom of movement, speech or action. It must rather augment this freedom, while effectively guaranteeing the protection of everyone’s essential, personal rights (Peace on Earth [Pacem in Terris] 65-66).

Respect for human rights is the key to the common good.

A government under Leung will face many demands. Hot items already on the agenda are the two-way permit system allowing pregnant women and their Hong Kong-born children to make demands on subsidised housing and the already heavily burdened medical system.

These and other things place a strain on the budget.

However, on the other hand, Hong Kong may face an economic downturn due to the European debt crisis and at the same time have to deal with an unreasonably high property market.

In addition to this, Hong Kong is a slowly aging society. A question that needs to be asked is whether the government should think about a long term plan for the aging population, such as an across the board retirement pension for all or not?

Law should be administered with fairness and justice, and there should there be a fair deal for everyone, without favour to any particular group or conglomerate?

In the Old Testament, King Solomon asked God for the wisdom to rule his people well. Leung certainly needs a similar wisdom for his term of governance.

But in conducting the affairs of his administration he will also need charity. In his encyclical, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate), Pope Benedict calls charity the driving force behind authentic human development.

It takes on a practical form under the principle of justice and common good. If the actions of the state are guided by these two principles, progress for all will be achieved.

Leung can perhaps learn from Church social teaching and the biblical wisdom. Armed with charity and justice, he can build a benevolent and effective government for all of Hong Kong.

He and his cabinet members must learn to be patient and humble, to listen attentively to the voice of the people and accept criticism when rightfully directed at them.

Only then can we can look forward to Hong Kong becoming a progressive society.



Teresa Mak

Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs

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