The Holy Year of Mercy is an opportunity to rebuild relationships and ties with those who live faraway. Reconciliation with unlawful bishops will be difficult. Pope Francis would also like “to come to China." Protestants become Catholic to receive forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation. A divided Hong Kong needs mercy.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Fr Luigi Bonalumi, a missionary with the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Hong Kong, is one of the Missionaries of Mercy Pope Francis wants to send into the world to offer pardon and reconciliation. Like hundreds of other missionaries, today he will receive the mandate from the pope.
We talked with Fr Bonalumi to hear his personal thoughts about the mandate and the value it has for the people of Hong Kong and China, where many expect the Missionaries of Mercy to be an instrument of reconciliation with unlawful bishops who were excommunicated because they were ordained without papal mandate.
Yesterday, the PIME missionary met with Pope Francis who, once he heard where he came from, told him “How much I’d like to come to China." The interview with Fr Bonalumi follows.
Father, what made you decide to become a Missionary of Mercy?
Last October I came back from my holidays, which I take every three years. At my first meeting with the auxiliary bishop, he asked me if I wanted to be a Missionary of Mercy. Initially I did not understand what it entailed. I thought I was being asked to give a testimonial for the World Mission Day in October. Then it dawned on me what he meant.
Afterwards, I was invited to a meeting with all the bishops of Hong Kong, the chancellor and some people from the curia. On that occasion, I mentioned what I found difficult. The first thing is that I do not speak Mandarin*. If a Mandarin speaker comes to me, I would not know how to help him or her. The second difficulty is that that I am pastor. A Missionary of Mercy has to be sent to different places and countries, and I cannot leave my parish for too long.
The bishops told me that Mandarin was not a problem. I would be the first to approach people and they would take it from there. The same thing goes for the parish: in case of need, someone could replace me for a short time. The cardinal wrote a letter of introduction to the Vatican and now I am here.
How many Missionaries of Mercy are from Hong Kong?
Only one: myself.
How do you see promoting reconciliation through the mercy?
As Pope Francis intended, the Year of the Holy Mercy is above all an opportunity to find every possible way to renew ties with people, even those who are the farthest away. There is an urgent need to find common ground for coexistence. He also expressed this in the message he issued for Chinese New Year.
At present, Hong Kong is going through a difficult situation, divided upon itself, in politics, society, and the family. At the political level, there are tensions between pro-China, pro-establishment groups and those who are against the mainland, the pan-democrats. At the economic level, there is concern over employment and wages. At a personal level, people are tense and worried, and many emigrate.
Celebrating reconciliation means bringing hope to people, establishing a basis to welcome each other. This basis is found in the Gospel: once one has experienced God’s mercy, then one can become the instrument of mercy. This is what the pope is stressing.
What will you do as a Missionary of Mercy?
I will continue to be a parish priest. I have already seen the fruitfulness of mercy at work; in families for example: broken, very tenuous relations among people are strengthened by faith.
I also have Protestant friends who joined the Catholic Church precisely because they wanted to experience forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation. This might seem a bad example of ecumenism, but it shows how much we need forgiveness.
Lastly, I must say that many young people are rediscovering this sacrament, and want to live a true Christian life. Now that many of the myths associated with careers and success have collapsed, young people rediscover a desire to deepen the truth of their faith in their own experiences, love, etc.
Will the Missionaries of Mercy who go to China also forgive sins reserved for the Apostolic See, including those committed by unlawful bishops?
I accepted the bishop’s invitation and did not see any problem with it even though, as I said, I do not speak Mandarin. I thought that someone from China could come to Rome and take this mandate. Maybe there will be problems. Whatever the case, I think the bishop, Card John Tong, views this service more for the Diocese of Hong Kong than for mainland China. Perhaps someone else will step in for China. There will undoubtedly be some Chinese priests, perhaps even from Taiwan.
* Fr Bonalumi speaks Cantonese, Hong Kong’s main Chinese language.