A few days after taking office, Mgr Stephen Lee Bun-sang spoke to AsiaNews about the challenges his episcopal ministry faces. They include gambling, Macau’s main industry, as well as the unity of its Catholic community. He also talks about the Jubilee of Mercy, relations with the Chinese Church and the evangelization of Asia. “The work of evangelization of Macau Diocese through history was important for the Far East. Now we have to rekindle that missionary spirit in the small community of believers of Macau.”
Macao (AsiaNews) – Mgr Stephen Lee Bun-sang began his episcopal ministry on January 23 in a ceremony in the Igreja da Sé, Macau’s cathedral*. For the new bishop, the unity of each Catholic with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is “not something superficial or just nominal but vital,” which every believer must experience. Through such unity, which should be reflected in the diocese, we can bear witness to the Gospel in society and restart the evangelization of Asia.
In a long interview, Mgr Lee talks about the relationship with the Church in mainland China, the gambling industry as a challenge for Macau Catholics and the need to rekindle the missionary spirit among believers. The full interview follows.
How do you feel a couple of weeks after being installed as Bishop of Macau?
It is being two and half weeks since my installation as Bishop of Macau, and as you can imagine, I am still settling down and learning so many things. Therefore, this is a period of adjustment. I have not even settle in the office yet, but I am happy and I must say that so far so good. I really feel very welcomed and I must say that all people around me are very nice, and the environment is also nice. I cannot but say that I am positively impressed. The day of my installation was a good beginning and I was really impressed at seeing the Chinese, the Portuguese, the Filipinos and Catholic of other nationalities all together praying together and showing their support to me.
What do you think a newly appointed Bishop should do at the beginning of his ministry?
Well, the first thing is to get to know the people around me, starting from the Curia, the priests, the leaders, the religious and the local faithful. I need to know them and learn from them. I also need to approach the local Catholics in their parishes, and the various organizations of the Diocese. These are the most important thing I have to do in the coming months, so I underline the words listening and learning.
In your first address to the Catholics of Macau on the day of your instalment as Bishop of Macau, you underlined the word unity, at various levels. Why?
The unity I emphasized on my first address to the Catholic community on the day of my installation has always being essential in my life. Unity, starting from our faith and with the Trinity. It is fundamental for every Catholic to have a personal relationship with God. And this unity will really revitalize the life of the believers. This is not something superficial or just nominal but vital. Faith is above all a personal relationship with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. I hope this will be reinforced in the lives of the faithful, and unity be underlined in the Diocese. This unity goes further than the community of believers, and reaches to the society of Macau and China, because we are part of China. Finally, unity within the Diocese, among the bishop and priests, with the religious communities. I do pray that this desire will be achieved.
Macau is an international Tourist Center where the Gaming Industry has an impact in the local population. Does this put any particular challenge to the Diocese?
Yes, it is a fact that the masses of people, and especially tourists, are there, and we cannot ignore it. This is not only a challenge to the Diocese of Macau. It is a challenge to any diocese in the world, because we live in contexts of materialism and consumerism. Of course, in Macau this is a physical fact as Macau is a gambling center, and the presence of casinos is too evident and influences people’s lives. So, in Macau added to the moral issues, we have the physical presence of the casinos, spread around. It is a fact, but I am not pessimistic about it. The world of casinos calls us Catholics and reminds us to reinforce a proper education of the youth, by reinforcing the family values that have to start in the family and the school. Therefore, the work of education is vital, in order to help the youth to discern and arise in their conscience what is good and evil. Let their conscience work and discern, but in order to do that they have to be properly educated.
Your Excellency used to travel to China to give talks, etc. Do you foresee any particular step to foster the relationship between the Diocese of Macau and the Church in China?
We have to consider that Macau is already part of China and therefore we have to abide by the "One country, two systems" policy. Collaboration of the Diocese with China, yes, but always upon formal requests from the Church in China. I will follow the relationship established before, and to assure you that the Diocese is always willing to help out in concrete terms and in various ways that can be worked out, such as imparting retreats, fostering formation at various levels, etc.
How would you like Catholics of Macau live this Year of Mercy?
My desire is that the Diocese continues with the plans started in December 2015. We will follow the line of Pope Francis, who underlines two points: first, that every Catholic experiences personally the mercy of God. And this we do it through prayer, by bringing about forgiveness in our midst, by celebrating the sacrament of confession, for what we will request the clergy to be especially available for the sacrament of reconciliation, so that we experience the mercy of God in oneself. Secondly, we are called to bring this mercy, already experience in us, to those in need, but I must underline that the work with the needy starts with those closer to us and in the family, place of work, etc. For instance, we cannot go to visit the elderly somewhere else and leave the elderly I might have at home unattended. And of course, by exercising mercy with those near to us we, then, outreach to those most needy in society.
Along its history, the Diocese of Macau always played a significant role in the process of evangelization of Asia. How do you think this missionary spirit can be revitalized?
The work of evangelization of Macau Diocese through history was important for the Far East. Now we have to rekindle that missionary spirit in the small community of believers of Macau. We need to revitalize the life of the faithful in the local community. We lack priests and seminarians as well as local religious in the Diocese. We still rely very much on missionaries, so we need to do more in order to establish a strong community that is more rooted in the Diocese.
Have you already thought of some priorities for the Diocese for the coming years?
It is still a bit soon to start making a plan, but some of the goals are those of Pope Francis for every diocese in the world. There is the need to underline the pastoral work with the families, give especial attention to marriage life and to continue with the works of mercy. As it regards to the Diocese, I still need to listen to the priests, visit the parishes, meet the religious, etc., and for this it will take one or two years before drawing precise and concrete priorities for the Diocese in the coming years.
A word to the Catholics of Macau and to society in general.
I will say the same words that I addressed to them on the day of my installation as Bishop of Macau. That every Catholic be united with God through a close relationship as the starting point. That this personal experience of each Catholic is shared and spread around starting in the family, in the work place, etc.; and that this is done through personal example and through works of charity. The life style of the community of believers in the Diocese should also be shared with the masses of tourists that come to our city in Macau, because, no doubt, tourists are a capture market for first evangelization.
* Also known as Igreja da Natividade de Nossa Senhora (Church of the Nativity of Our Lady)