03/25/2019, 17.10
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Extraordinary Missionary Month inspires HK Church history explained in Catholic institutes

by Lucia Cheung

Pope Francis proclaimed the extraordinary missionary month for October 2019. In the first public talk, Fr. Gianni Criveller looks at the history of PIME missionaries. Other talks will be held from March to December.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Three Catholic institutes in Hong Kong are working together to preserve the 20th century history of the local Church, and make it better known through a series of public talks and conferences.

The Centre for Catholic Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Chinese diocesan weekly Kung Kao Po and the Diocesan Archives Office held their first public talk last Saturday on the ‘History of the Catholic mission in Hong Kong’.

Church historian Fr Gianni Criveller spoke about the origins of the missionaries of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) in Hong Kong, noting that they are not more important than others. As a member of the institute, he knows the subject well.

This said, most of the history of the local Church in the 20th century reflects the service provided by PIME missionaries.

That history begins however in 1858 with Fr Paolo Reina who was the first PIME missionary to set foot in Hong Kong. In 1868 the Hong Kong mission was established by the Foreign Missionaries of Milan (later called PIME). In 1969 Mgr Francis Hsu, became the first Chinese bishop of the city.

According to Fr Criveller, 212 PIME missionaries have served in the city up to now. In his talk, in addition to presenting the pictures of certain important missionaries and maps of their missionary routes, the clergyman divided PIME evangelization into three parts: the creation of Christian communities and parishes, education and training, and social services and charitable works.

Fr Criveller picked three significant episodes to highlight the history of the local mission: Mgr Enrico Valtorta, first bishop of Hong Kong and Defensor Civitatis during the war years (1939-1945); the release of Bishop Lorenzo Bianchi in Communist China on 17 October 1952; and the change of leadership (1967-1969), when Mgr Bianchi believed the local Church was mature enough to be run by the local clergy.

Several oral history interviews were presented during the public talk. These interviews are a contribution to the next book on the oral history of the Catholic clergy, nuns and the faithful. The text is designed to encourage readers to reflect on the social situation, the Church of Hong Kong, its services and the way to preserve Church history.

The monthly public talk will run from March to August, whilst next December the three institutes have scheduled a conference on the same theme – The History of the Church in Hong Kong in the 20th Century – at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

A member of the Centre for Catholic Studies explained that talks on the history of the mission are inspired by Pope Francis, who proclaimed October 2019 as the Extraordinary Missionary Month” and the local diocese paid importance and has activities for it. 

This special month will mark the centennial of Maximum Illud, the 1919 apostolic letter issued by Pope Benedict XV, which highlighted the importance and priorities of Catholic missions.

Picture 1: Fr Gianni Criveller explains that the missionaries who worked in China had to shave their heads under the rules of the Qing dynasty.

Picture 2: Fr Criveller shows the map of the Catholic mission in the early 20th century.

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