Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord
‘Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Revelation 22:20). Advent always reminds us of entering into a new liturgical year in the history of salvation. We are preparing for the Saviour to come
Looking back over the Jubilee Year of Mercy that ended on November 20, the effort made by the Diocesan Ad Hoc Committee for the Jubilee of Mercy, the Liturgy Commission, Church media and all parishes in our diocese are highly appreciated.
Thanks are due to everyone for all the promotion and implementation of formation activities, liturgical celebrations and pastoral matters relating to the Holy Year.
The Opening of the Holy Doors, the arrangement of receiving Jubilee indulgences and the sacrament of reconciliation, as well as pilgrimages to the seven designated churches and chapels have met with the active participation of the faithful from the diocese and other places.
Such spiritual and pastoral acts have deepened our understanding of Jesus as the visible face of the invisible Merciful Father and have reminded us to pray, show mercy and offer forgiveness to one another.
It was amazing that Pope Francis canonised Mother Teresa of Kolkatta during the Jubilee of Mercy on September 4 at St. Peter’s Square. Mother Teresa had visited Hong Kong many times.
Her merciful deeds had inspired numerous people here and worldwide to share their comfort, love and respect for life. She was praised for giving material and spiritual support to the poor and the sick.
In his homily at the canonisation Mass, Pope Francis commended her for her defence of human life and being a mother to the poor, as well as a generous dispenser of divine mercy.
“She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that ‘the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable.’ She bowed down before those who were spent and left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity,” the pope said.
Pope Francis went on to say, “For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears for their poverty and suffering.”
This is also a good reminder for us to be alert to the coming of Jesus.
The life of the unborn is obviously connected with marriage and family. During his pontificate of just over three years, Pope Francis has convened two Synods of Bishops, in 2014 and 2015, on the theme of family.
The Holy Father gathered ideas and recommendations expressed by the participating cardinals and synod fathers, and published his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of Love, on 19 March 2016.
The apostolic document “represents an invitation to Christian families to value the gifts of marriage and the family, and to persevere in a love strengthened by the virtues of generosity, commitment, fidelity and patience” (The Joy of Love, 5).
In Hong Kong, with the contribution of ideas from the Board of Diocesan Consultors and the Council of Priests, I have decided to use this Pastoral Letter for Advent to announce as a priority for the pastoral work of our diocese in the coming year: Care for marriage, family and life; Study and live out ‘The Joy of Love’.
In 2014, after attending the Extraordinary Consistory on the Family in February, I conveyed its ideas through my Easter Pastoral Letter. A thought emerged from the synod with reference to Genesis 1:27-28 that tells about God’s creation of man and woman, uniting them to form a family and procreate.
It is God’s plan to create the world with marriage and family. It was also noted that Jesus raised marriage to a sacrament, giving special grace to marital life and declaring that families live out the mystery of Christ and grow in love (see Ephesians 5:32).
Finally, the synod fathers pointed out that the Church emphasises “the inviolable fidelity of spouses” and “an unbreakable union between them” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1646).
However, divorcees should be treated with Christ-like compassion, empathy and mercy, and be accompanied on their spiritual journey. The Church should not just consider the legal aspect of the matter and neglect the scars and pain, nor should wrongs be tolerated or truth be abandoned.
We should lead them to gradually discern and understand the plan of God for them and how to respond to his call, moving into the realm of full communion with the Church.
At the Extraordinary Consistory, I also shared with other bishops about the situation of marriage and family in our diocese. In the last 20 years, the faithful of our diocese have felt the importance of family life deeply.
Many groups of the laity that are concerned with family life and marriage have been formed and provide pastoral care, social services and formative activities for parents, couples and individuals in need.
At the recommendation of the Diocesan Synod in Hong Kong (2000 to 2001), a Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family was formed to address related pastoral needs.
At a parochial level, many parishes also established a Parochial Pastoral Group for Family, actively propagating formative activities on the positive values of marriage, family and life. I deeply hope that more, even all, parishes will form such groups to help couples and families to overcome difficulties and to promote love and mutual understanding.
The Diocesan Commission mentioned above will provide the necessary assistance and support to parishes.
In recent years, more and more men and women have participated in and benefitted from our Church-run pre-marital courses. Our diocese has more than 10 associations and organisations specialising in ministries on marriage and family life.
Through their service and contribution, a number of experienced Catholic couples are trained to serve in both before and after the wedding day counselling, and to accompany those in need.
However, for Catholics who have sought civil divorces or those that have remarried, our pastoral care is far from sufficient. The Diocesan Pastoral Commission for Marriage and the Family attempts to offer and coordinate the necessary support.
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord: As marriage and family are the foundation stones of society, faith can help families face their challenges in life and a deepened faith can strengthen the bonds within the family.
Let us begin by offering more time and love for families, praying fervently in families, living in harmony and parenting, as well as living out forgiveness and mercy. Then, we can extend this way of life from family to workplace and society.
Finally, I hope the disparity of wealth in our society will be alleviated and the economic improvement of the poor may help resolve certain social conflicts.
Also, job schedules involving long working hours are in need of improvement. Then, more people can enjoy a better family life and nourish their bodies, minds and souls.
Let us prepare ourselves to welcome our Saviour!
May God bless you!
+ John Cardinal Tong
20 November 2016
The Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe