A Catholic Monthly Magazine

THE CHURCH’S SITUATION IN CHINA: Wonderful, Difficult, And … Possible

John Cardinal Tong Hon

John Cardinal Tong Hon

Extracts from the homily preached by the Bishop of Hong Kong, John Cardinal Tong Hon, on the occasion of his installation in his parish in Rome, Mary, Queen of the Apostles, on the Third Sunday of Easter, April 22, 2012.

(He was created a cardinal in the consistory of February 18, 2012.)

“Today’s Gospel tells us about the journey of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, accompanied by the Risen Lord. Today, I also am joining your community in the journey you are making together with the Risen Lord during this Easter season.

I was born in 1939....After priestly training in Hong Kong and Rome, I was ordained priest in 1966....In 1980, when China had re-opened itself to the outside world, I was asked to organise contacts with the growing Chinese Church. With this aim in mind, I have visited China and the Catholic Church of China more than a hundred times .....

In 1996 I was ordained auxiliary bishop,  and in 2009 I succeeded Joseph Cardinal Zen as Ordinary of Hong Kong. This year, the Holy Father has honoured me, and the Church in China, with the title of Cardinal.

Now I want to share with you my four major concerns as pastor of Hong Kong and as a cardinal.

Evangelisation is our major concern in the diocese. The year of faith, 2012 -2013, is going to give a new impetus to the mission of the Church.....

My second concern is promotion of vocations to the priesthood and religious life....and my third is for the non-catholic Chinese people in our diocese. ....

My fourth concern is for the church in China. The recent supreme Pontiffs have seen the Hong Kong Church as a bridge between the Church in China and the universal Church. Pope Benedict XVI has encouraged me to continue this role.

Since China re-opened itself near the end of the 1970s, its economy has rapidly progressed towards freedom and progress has been quite visible. However, the rules concerning religion remain strict. The Church in China faces problems of government control, restraints on liberty, and a lack of unity among the faithful, who need reconciliation.

Chinese Madonna

Chinese Madonna

I will sum up my feelings on the situation of the Church in China with three simple adjectives:  it is wonderful, difficult and possible. It is wonderful not only because of its vitality and growth in numbers (from
3 000 000 in 1949 to 12 000 000 at present), but also for the wonderful examples of courage and zeal of its members in the past and in the present. They live in situations similar to those of the newly-born Church, and the Holy Spirit arouses in them the courage of witnesses of the Gospel, as were the first Apostles. Allow me to share with you one incident, which echoes that incident  in which the deacon Philip baptised the Ethiopian eunuch. A priest was put in prison because he refused to join the independent Church [ i.e. the state –controlled Church –translator’s note] He was forced to stretch himself out on a long wooden plank floating on the water, beside another prisoner (“the water prison”).They had to stay in this position the whole day, and for many more days, until their resistance broke. The priest, in order to overcome this stress and to take advantage of this situation, spent the time praying and recollecting himself spiritually. His companion, on the contrary, did not stop complaining. But seeing that the priest remained silent and serene, he asked him how he could carry on in this way. The priest took advantage of the occasion to explain to his companion the main points of our belief and Catholic teaching. The situation became a catechism lesson. At the end, his companion said to the priest; ‘There is water here, what is to stop me from being baptised?” And the priest baptised him, just as Philip baptised the Ethiopian in the Acts of the Apostles.


The Church in China, however, lives in really difficult situations. To help you understand that, I would like to read you a part of a letter from one of my bishop – friends  in mainland China. The government, with the co-operation of some Catholics who are Catholic only in name, has built another organisation outside the structure of the Church, to control the Church itself: the Patriotic Church of China , autonomous and independent of Rome.

But because of the courage God gives to Catholics who want to defend their faith, the Church’s future seems bright. As my bishop-friend says:

“I am confronted with various campaigns....Oppression is very great; personally, I feel I am under a lot of pressure. However, I have already been through the difficulties and conflicts of the years  1951 to 1979, so I am more or less indifferent  to it. Everything is in God’s hands. He has everything  well  under control. It will be only for the benefit of the Church. The extreme measures that the Government has taken to strengthen its control will certainly not work: to the contrary, they will force the Church to be more alert and unified. The future is bright, we must silently await God’s grace. The time for that is not very near, nor very distant.”Hong Kong Diocese

The situation of the Church in China seems depressing, especially if we consider that there are  some illegitimate bishops, and a dozen faithful bishops and priests are still in prison. But, as long as God is with the Church, there is reason for hope. This situation saddens us,  just as the crucifixion  and death of Jesus saddened the two disciples  going to Emmaus, but that should be a reason for us to pray for our Catholic Chinese brothers and sisters who are suffering, and to continue the journey with our Risen Lord in communion and solidarity with them.   

(Translated from “Missions Etrangeres de Paris” July- August 2012, by Brian Quin, s.m.)

Tagged as: , ,

Comments are closed.