01/05/2010, 00.00
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Bishop Tong: A review of the life of the Church in China in 2009

by Annie Lam
The bishop of Hong Kong sees the continuous postponement of the National Assembly of Catholic representatives as positive. The Chinese church absorbs the directives of the Pope's 2007 letter. Urgent challenges: vocations and religious formation. January 2011: Year of the Laity in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - In a meeting with AsiaNews and some Catholics media, Mgr. John Tong, bishop of Hong Kong took stock of the situation of the Church in China in 2009.   He highlighted as a "good thing" the  postponement of the National Assembly of Catholic Representatives, decided in Beijing last November. "The assembly will likely elect officials to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the so-called bishops conference in mainland. Their structures are not compatible with Catholic doctrine as stated in the 2007 papal letter for China Catholics" .

On the compendium approved by Pope Benedict XVI released in May 2009 to help mainland Catholics understand and interpret the main points of his 2007 letter, the 71 year-old prelate said, “It has offered some guidance to the mainland Catholics to have a deeper understanding of the document, and he has received positive responses though not many”, but he added ““It’s a long term work to implement the papal letter”.

Mgr Tong is a Church-in-China expert, who is also a member of the Vatican’s China Commission and head of the Holy Spirit Study Centre of Hong Kong diocese.

Another point highlighted by bishop is the Year for Priests, which he said, “has raised awareness among clergy in mainland China over the need of faith formation and priestly vocations as shown in their activities and prayers to St. Vianney”.

“In fact, religious formation is related to the second part of the 2007 papal letter,” he noted.

After studying the situation of formation for priests and nuns in China, Mgr. Tong hopes that the Chinese would be aware of criteria requirements of seminaries outside China and strengthen their seminary formation. In addition, priests and nuns who wish to study abroad - the Philippines, Italy, Germany, the United States or elsewhere - should acquire the language [of the country of destination] and meet academic requirements of such schools.

In November 2009, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, issued a letter to all priests in China, calling for communion and priestly vocations. Bishop Tong thinks the document is positive for priest formation work in mainland China.  In this regard, he points out that some Church formators are preparing material [for formation] for the religious, based on the papal exhortation on Consecrated Life.

Mainland seminaries in 2009 and recent years have encountered low numbers of enrolled. “It’s worrying. Mainland seminary formators are aware of the problem of low vocations too, especially under the one-child policy and influence of materialism”.  “Local Churches on the mainland need to promote vocations among Catholic families, and priests who pursue further studies could study spirituality and vocation formation training to improve the formation needs”.

Since August 2008, Bishop Tong visited Beijing twice at the occasion of Beijing Olympics and China’s 60th national day, but he had not met Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing on both events.  Bishop Tong said he was not at all upset: “Unless we could talk freely, a courtesy call might not be of any significance,” he noted, adding that more mainland Catholics are visiting the Hong Kong Church.

Bishop Tong succeeded as the ordinary of Hong Kong in April 2009 after Cardinal Joseph Zen retired. “Like all bishops, I hope to do my best,” Bishop Tong said. “The priests and Church members in the diocese are united, and eager to live out the spirit of evangelization. Certainly, I hope there will be more vocations and the formation will bear fruits,” he said. “My role is to lay down the direction, and the priests and others will do the rest,” he smiled.

Despite his many commitments he still regularly plays basketball. “Through sports, I find myself more cheerful and relaxed.”

Following the priorities laid down by the Diocesan Synod (1999-2001) the diocese will launch a Year of the Laity in January 2011 after the Year for Priestly Vocations ends at the end of 2010.

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