“The Church in Macau can contact the Church in China and has easy access to the mainland because it is located right next to it,” said Bishop Lai, who visited Beijing and mainland Churches on several occasions since he succeeded Bishop Domingos Lam Ka-tseung in 2003.
Bishop Lam, who died on July 28, 2009, was the first Chinese bishop in the history of the 433-year-old diocese, which had hitherto been led by Portuguese bishops. He took part in the drafting of the Macau Basic Law, the territory’s mini-constitution that took effect on December 20, 1999.
After reversion, more exchanges with mainland Catholics were made possible, as “the diocese maintains cordial relations with local government and with the Chinese authorities,” said 63-year-old Bishop Lai, a native of Macau. “Dialogue could involve sharing with mainlanders Catholic spiritual values. Religious people are working for peace and harmony,” he said.
In 2007, Bishop Lai and other Chinese bishops from Hong Kong and Taiwan were appointed to the Vatican’s China Commission, months after the summit on the China Church was held in the Vatican in January of that year. “It’s good to have Chinese bishops from these places to offer advice to the Holy Father and the Vatican officials,” he noted.
Speaking on Macau’s role in the China-Vatican relations, he said that since China and the Holy See have set up communication channels in Rome, “there is no need to pass through Macau.”
His most recent trip to mainland China took place on October 1 in Beijing for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, where he met with officials of the State Administration of Religious Affairs. He did not request to meet Beijing Catholics because of a tight schedule and traffic restrictions in the capital.
Thrice, in 2007, 2008 and 2009, the Macau diocese organized exchange programs for priests from Hebei and other provinces.
After 1999, the diocese maintained pastoral contacts with the Bishops’ Conference of Portugal because of the presence in Macau the "Macanese”, people of mixed Chinese-Portuguese origin, and her Portuguese-speaking Catholics.
Noting that the UNESCO World Heritage List includes some Macau churches, Bishop Lai said, “The Church in Macau will help introduce Portuguese cultures. As monuments, the churches are unique manifestation of Catholic culture” and the “local Church can serve as a bridge between Chinese and western cultures”.
Seminarians in Macau are encouraged to study Portuguese, he said, partly because most Church documents in the diocesan archives were written in Portuguese, which is still one of the two official languages of Macau.
In 2003, Beijing designated Macau as the “Service Platform for the Economic Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries”, namely Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and East Timor.
“More links with Portuguese-speaking Churches are envisaged,” the bishop said.
As part of its outreach, the diocese hosted a meeting of Portuguese-speaking bishops from the aforementioned countries in 2008 that featured a visit to churches in Zhongshan and Shiqi, both in Jiangmen diocese, where they met some local priests and nuns.