2014/08/30 - Three new Bishops for Hong Kong

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Having been in Hong Kong for two years now,  as chaplain to the French speaking community, I would like to share with you a recent and important event for the Catholic church in China and, at the same time, present some of its more characteristic aspects.

On the last Saturday of August, three new bishops were ordained in the crowded cathedral of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong. The celebration was lead by Cardinal John Hon Tong, ordinary of the diocese, in the presence of the former bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kien, known for his position in the battle for freedom, and many other bishops who came from Rome, Taiwan, Sth Korea, Japan, USA and even from Germany – as the diocese of Essen is twinned with Hong Kong.

The last ordination took place nearly twenty years ago (1996) on the eve of the handing back of what was then a British colony. It had been British for one hundred years but then became part of the People’s Republic of China, with however special status granted across a fifty year transition period. At that time two bishops had been ordained, Zen and Hon Tong. In fact it is a sort of tradition in the Hong Kong church to have more than one episcopal ordination at a time – surely planned by the Vatican to provide the diocese with bishops for a long time.

Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, a diocesan priest, was born in Shanghai in 1945. Both the others were born in Hong Kong - Stephen Lee Bun-sang (Opus Dei prelature) in 1956 and Joseph Ha Chi-shing, a Franciscan, in 1959.

I personally know Michael Yeung because we live in the same diocesan centre behind the cathedral and we share the same table for meals. He was General Vicar and in charge of Caritas, the most important social institution of the Catholic church in Hong Kong. It has become an icon of christian love taking care of every need: handicapped children, the elderly, homeless, refugees and so on. Indeed the Church here is very strong in that way and remains as a very important counterpart not only in  the  social  work  but  also  in  the educational field and wealth as well.

What demonstrates the high vitality of the church is the number of baptisms. Around four thousand adults are baptized each year. Cardinal Tong likes to joke about it saying that, in total, the number of adult baptisms in his diocese is as many as in the whole French Catholic church! That really means that a new parish should be created every year but unfortunately it is not possible. So with 50 parishes (10% of the population are christian – half of them Catholic – out of more than 7 million inhabitants ) and 300 priests, as well as many religious communities, the Catholics of Hong Kong are assured that their spiritual life is looked after! Alas, as in many other parts of the world, there are currently few vocations to priesthood. Support from other countries is always expected, perhaps now much more than ever – just as signs of God’s love are expected everywhere, and in China as well!

Just after the ordination rite, as the doors of the cathedral flung open, I recognized the melody and the words of the French song which filled the cathedral, pouring out the beautiful message: "PEACE, YES PEACE IS A GIFT OF JESUS"