Evangelization is like water: unless it is running, it is dead

Bishop of Hong Kong speaks of his diocese and relations with China

Five percent of Hong Kong residences are Catholic but this number, under the leadership of Bp. John Tong, is growing. The prelate is a member of the Vatican’s Commission on China and, as he says, the relations with the government in China are warm and open, but he will not sacrifice what he calls “the bottom line.”

Mark Riedemann interviewed Bp. Tong for the weekly TV program Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid the Church in Need.

Q: Your Excellency, you were born in Hong Kong but you soon moved to China.

Bp. Tong: …because the Japanese invaded Hong Kong…

Q: In this time your family was not Christian, not a Catholic family. How did you come to the Catholic faith in communist China?

Bp. Tong: My mother studied at a high school run by the Canossian Sisters in Hong Kong. After the war, she decided to join the Catholic Church. She was the first to convert. We all followed shortly. We were all baptized in Guangzhou, in Canton, China. The faith was planted when she was at a Catholic high school.

Q: One inspiration to your own vocation was one such missionary?

Bp. Tong: After the Second World War, the nationalists and the communists in China started to fight against each other. We lived very close to the Mission Chapel. We were very close to the church and close to the priest. I witnessed every day, the many refugees and wounded soldiers gathering around the church requesting money, food and all kinds of help. The pastor was an American missionary, a Maryknoll, and he was filled with Christ’s love and this is the inspiration I saw–and it inspired me–his good example. I told myself, as a young boy, that when I grow up I wish to be like him. In 1951, all foreign missionaries were expelled. The Church in China, in Guangzhou and the many Catholics told us that it was better to leave China. Those Catholics also told me to be an altar boy and perhaps join the seminary. I was too young at that time and I did not have the maturity and the in-depth knowledge of the priesthood, but the good example of our pastor planted the seed of the priestly vocation in my heart. The difficult situation at that time facilitated my decision to be a priest. My parents did not hesitate and readily agreed saying: “Why not, you can leave China, go ahead” and slowly, slowly my vocation deepened.

Q: You are the bishop of Hong Kong and you focus on evangelization. You have chosen two symbols to represent your work on evangelization; one is a water reservoir and the second the washing of hands. Why are these two symbols important to you in your work of evangelization and what do these symbols mean?

Bp. Tong: In the olden days in Honk Kong, we needed the reservoir to have enough water for drinking and washing. It is very important for life. There is a Chinese proverb: “Unless the water is running, it is dead water.” It does not become useful. So the reservoir symbolises the receiving of water and at the same time this water has to be used and shared otherwise the water that is unused becomes dead water. In applying this symbolism to evangelization, if we receive our faith we have to share it faith with others like the water in the reservoir. In sharing our faith, our faith deepens. The washing of hands is symbolic of mutuality and reciprocity. It is like the “bridge work” I do in China. On one hand, we help the Church in China with the revival and at the same time we learn from them, from the difficulties they face in practicing their faith. So we share our faith with them and we learn from their suffering and this is the symbol of the washing of hands.

Q: Your Excellency, evangelization has been having wonderful success in Hong Kong. In previous years you have had about 2,000-3,000 adult conversions. What is it that is provoking such a positive response among the adults in Hong Kong?

Bp. Tong: I think conversion depends on the Holy Spirit, on God’s grace; no matter how great our efforts, without God’s grace the people will not open their hearts. That is the first. Secondly, God always uses us as instruments of evangelization. Therefore, we should try our best. In a pastoral letter, I told my people about my four dreams. The first is about evangelization. We should increase the number of converts. The second is vocation. The number of vocations is far from ideal. We need the Catholics to have the mission mentality. We need priests to instruct the Catholics. The third is about caring for the Catholics from other nationalities. Aside from 350,000 Chinese Catholics, we have 180,000 from other nationalities of which two thirds are women from the Philippines who are in Hong Kong as domestic workers. The fourth is to be a bridge to the Catholics in China.

Q: You see the Church in Hong Kong as a sister Church, as a bridge to China. How do you see the role of Hong Kong Catholics with the Chinese Catholics?

Bp. Tong: Card. Wu always mentioned that because of our common language and blood, we are of the same nationality. All the Catholics should show their concern to China. We should do more because of our cultural and geographical proximity; we should be the “bridge” Church. To put it in a more concrete way: what would be the role of a bridge Church? There is some distance and there is always a conflict between the underground and the open Church. The goal of being the bridge is to reconcile among these various groups and to promote full communion of the Church in China with the Universal Church and with the Holy Father. This is our role.

This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

On the Web:

www.WhereGodWeeps.org and www.acn-intl.org

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Iraq prelate: Talk frankly, openly with Benedict XVI

BOY HANGS OUT NEAR HOME AT CHRISTIAN PALESTINIAN CAMP IN LEBANON--A boy hung out near his home in the Dbayeh Palestinian refugee camp, an all-Christian enclave outside Beirut, Lebanon. When he visited Lebanon Sept. 14-16, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his document on the 2010 special Synod of Bishops, which was dedicated to Christians in the Middle East. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

Tell pope in Lebanon of grave situation for Christians

The archbishop of Kirkuk, Iraq, is hoping Benedict XVI’s trip to Lebanon Sept. 14-16 will motivate bishops of the Middle East to speak openly with the pontiff about the danger of Christianity fading away from the region. Abp. Louis Sako told the charity Aid to the Church in Need Christian leaders should “go beyond the formalities” to spell out their concerns for the survival of the faith when they see the pope during his trip to the Middle East.

Abp. Sako underlined the extent of the Christian exodus from the Middle East, saying that it showed no sign of stopping and indeed had spread from Iraq to other countries, notably Syria. He also said that, despite considerable political discussion, extremism, and sectarianism are growing and that in response Christians are leaving the region that had been home to their families for thousands of years.

“The rise of political Islam is a matter of worry,” the archbishop said. “We Christians are a minority and there is no prospect of us gaining equal citizenship in the concrete reality of day-to-day life and there is no vision of a better future.

“Everyone is speaking of democracy and freedom but the reality on the ground is different.”The sectarianism is gaining ground and the majority are not taking care of minority groups. I think there are real fears of more Christians leaving.” He described the difficulty of encouraging faithful in his Diocese of Kirkuk to stay, saying many if not most have left.” From my diocese there are few families left. I cannot stop them [leaving] and speaking truthfully I have no magic solutions.

“I am doing my best to keep them, defend them, and encourage them. That has limited the problem but it is sad to see them leaving for good. As a pastor, I feel bad.” Abp. Sako reiterated that Christians feel like second-class citizens in a state based on Islam. He also acknowledged that some Christians get discouraged by a lack of strong Church leadership.

“Our hierarchy has become tired and it is sad to say we are sometimes divided,” he admitted.” It is necessary today to develop a Christian Arab theology able to announce the word of God to Arab Christians–and those who are not Christians–and help them to discover God’s love and paternal presence, enhancing dialogue and strengthening co-existence,” he reflected. “This theology does not mean isolation from the theology of the Universal Church but rather one which interacts with events and hence assists the Eastern Church with its mission.”

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