I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.
Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord
— Luke 2:10-11
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
This is the message the Angel of the Lord conveyed to the shepherds out in the fields, urging us to rejoice at the coming of Christ and to spread this Good News among all people!
Over the past months of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, our diocese has joyfully witnessed the active participation of Catholics in receiving the sacrament of reconciliation, as well as a lively manifestation of spiritual and corporal works of Mercy.
On November 20, I happily offered all your acts and prayers to the Merciful Father at the Eucharistic Celebration of the Closing Mass of the Jubilee on the Feast of Christ the King at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. The celebration was presided over by Pope Francis and concelebrated by cardinals from across the world, including the 17 who had been elevated on the previous day.
Our diocese received a piece of good news from the Holy See at the Closing Mass of the Jubilee in Hong Kong. Pope Francis appointed Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung as the coadjutor bishop of our diocese.
Bishop Yeung is an ideal leader, who has been an auxiliary bishop and a vicar general of our diocese. He is learned, competent and faithful. He is familiar with diocesan affairs and heads Caritas-Hong Kong. Let us offer him our full support and pray for him.
Recently, more than 40 clergy and religious sisters of our diocese gathered to celebrate their anniversaries of entering their congregations, of ordinations and of profession of vows. I was honoured and happy to be one of them at the celebration for the jubilarians on December 8 in the diocese.
We are called by God to know, love and serve him in priesthood or in consecrated life. Likewise, another joyful moment was witnessing the canonisation of Mother Teresa in Rome, together with dozens of my former classmates of more than 50 years ago at the Collegio Urbano.
It was a joyful reunion, as we were ordained priests in 1966 by Blessed Pope Paul VI, the first group of priests ordained by the Holy Father after the Second Vatican Council. Subsequently, I returned to serve in the diocese, in which I have had countless joyful days.
This Advent has drawn me into a reflection on the four pastoral priorities which I formulated at my succession as the bishop of Hong Kong in 2009. First, on evangelisation: With Divine Providence, each year our diocese has experienced more than 7,000 baptisms, half of them adults and half infants.
However, we are still a little flock in society, even in our Catholic schools and in parish neighbourhoods.
We must make more effort in preaching the Gospel, by serving the needy and the weak, and praying more! At Christmas, let us spread the joy of the Incarnate Jesus Christ among our families and friends.
Second, on promotion of vocations: Over the past two years, four of our diocesan seminarians have been ordained priests and another two deacons. The rest of our diocesan seminarians are few.
Your prayers for priestly vocations are most needed. It is also necessary to encourage young people to respond in faith and courage to God’s call to join the priesthood.
In nourishing a culture of vocation, the Diocesan Vocation Commission, led by Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, is making exhaustive efforts in its promotion. Clergy and religious are urged to share their lives with good deeds and words.
My own vocation was motivated in my childhood by a parish priest’s compassion for the needy in Guangzhou City, China.
The pastor, an American missionary, not only shared food and clothing with refugees and wounded soldiers fleeing northern China, but his merciful deeds and good heart moved me to pursue the priesthood.
In addition, vocations to the permanent diaconate have flourished under the direction of the vicar general, Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, and the related commission over the past 20 years, in which over 20 deacons have been ordained. Today, a good number of candidates are discerning their call from God.
Third, regarding concern for non-Chinese Catholics: Since I first assumed responsibility as a vicar general of the diocese in 1992, I have been encouraging parishes to arrange Masses in English or other languages for non-Chinese Catholics.
So far, about two-thirds of the 52 parishes (34 parishes) have Sunday Masses in English. Masses and pastoral care in other languages are also available. As Pope Francis always encourages believers to eliminate attitudes of discrimination and prejudice, so we too should open our doors to the needy and the stranger.
Fourth, regarding mission as a bridge Church: In recent years, more faithful from mainland China have travelled to Hong Kong for pilgrimages or visits.
Such encounters have created more opportunities for both sides to come to understand each other’s pastoral needs and challenges. The way they live the faith in difficulty and suffering are highly inspirational.
I recall that a priest in Sichuan province showed me the importance of the fiat, letting it be done according to God’s will. The priest had an enthusiasm for evangelisation in the 1950s, but the situation was getting difficult and he suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976).
He was ordered to carry heavy loads of charcoal each day and deliver it to households around the villages. He at first felt humiliated in doing such menial work and complained to God: why must a priest be treated this way?
Gradually, the priest experienced a conversion and recognised the will of God in what was happening in his life.
From then on, when he delivered the charcoal, he always smiled and cared for the villagers, sharing life and friendship with them.
In early 1980s, he was reinstated as a priest and returned to his parish work. Surprisingly, many villagers visited him and joined his catechism classes. In a few years, his parish expanded rapidly. The number of his parishioners increased from a few hundred to nearly a thousand.
Jesus Christ gives hope and light to people who grope in darkness. Today, the Church in China and the Universal Church have not yet achieved full communion.
As a bridge Church, we hope to promote dialogue and understanding. May the Church in China and the Universal Church be united and achieve full communion with our Holy Father.
At this Christmas, I hope the disparity between the rich and the poor can be alleviated, and may lessen some of the contradictions and conflicts in society.
Reducing long or excessive working hours, would allow families to enjoy more quality time together and nourish their bodies, minds and souls. Let me wish you all a very merry Christmas! And may God bless you!
Let us welcome the coming of Our Saviour! “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours!” (Luke 2:14).
+ John Cardinal Tong
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong