Advent message 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:

The past months saw the mandatory isolation measures of varying degrees adopted by all countries across the globe with a view to deterring the contagious spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). Such measures not only impede the interpersonal social contact, but also critically affect the normal operations of every society. Given that the Church constitutes an integral part of the social community, chances are rather remote for her to conduct her normal public activities, including liturgical ceremonies, formation, charity, celebrations and the like. How should the Church respond when the Covid-19 pandemic is generally believed to continue to be around for a seemingly lengthy period of time?

The impending 2020 Advent season reminds us again that our Lord Jesus is always present among us. Therefore, we cannot wait passively for the pandemic to be over and to disappear, but should welcome and receive God’s unexpected coming amidst the pandemic with new modes of thinking. The Church’s announcement: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us,” (John 1:14) was indeed a proclamation of the advent of a God who is gladly willing to reside among all nations. With our Lord’s abundant and inexhaustible grace, He is set to stimulate every human being’s sublime aspirations, inclusive of promoting the equality and friendship of mankind, respect for the disparity between one another, commitment to peace-making and solidarity through dialogue, as well as undertaking the responsibility to show care and concern for the creation of the earth, and the like.

The global pandemic has clearly revealed to us the signs of the era. In view of the extensive mobility of the digital culture, the link today between people of contemporary times and the steady and non-changeable geographical environment has become increasingly minimal. People are now living in a “Diversified Global Village”. The digital culture has inevitably changed the concept of space and also people’s language and behaviour, particularly amid the younger generation. In so far as the Church is concerned, we discovered that the former life style with the parish and the clergy constituting the focal point of attention has undergone gradual changes under the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the social gathering ban and the social distancing requirement, the parishes can no longer be the main gathering places and social centres for the local communities as they have been in the past.

Furthermore, liturgical life with the clergy at the core is no longer in a position to respond to the aspirations for solidarity, friendship, justice and equality.

Indeed, the distinguished feature of a parish is rooted in the people’s daily lives and the local community. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the parish is no longer confined to a geographic space, but has become an environment for establishing rapport, through mutual servicing and liturgical rites among the local community. Hence, instead of reminiscing about the past and awaiting the restoration of parish life to that of a bygone era, it may be more desirable to face the challenges posed by the pandemic, move forward dauntlessly, as well as search for and identify a possible new mode of existence for the parish, in the hope of it playing a pivotal role in the local community once again.

Coincidentally, the vatican’s Congregation for the clergy released “The pastoral conversion of the Parish community in the service of the evangelising mission of the Church” instruction in July this year. It points out that for the purpose of addressing the demands of the contemporary era and also more effectively fulfil the mission and service of evangelisation, both the structural framework and the pastoral orientation of the parish should be firmly grounded. Three directions mentioned in the new Guidelines are worthy of re-consideration:

(1) The parish should not be considered as equivalent to a building or a series of organisations. It is rather a community which is constituted of different communities. As pointed out by Pope Francis in Evangeli Gaudium: Apostolic Exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world” (24 November 2013), “The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”[28]

(2) The Parish must be a place which gathers people together and seeks to promote and foster long-term interpersonal relationships, thereby nurturing a sense of belonging and acceptance in the parish community. The parish should therefore be a people-oriented venue, promoting dialogue, solidarity and openness to all.

(3) If the parish succeeds in firmly rooting itself in the heart of the community’s daily lives, it will become a place for overcoming loneliness, and will affect the lives of many. “It is a community of communities, a sanctuary where the thirsty come to drink in the midst of their journey, and a centre of constant missionary outreach.” [28]

The Diocese has therefore decided to adopt “parish renewal” as the pastoral theme for the coming year. On the basis of the above Instruction, the Diocese will face the challenges of the contemporary era and reflect on how the Church can more effectively fulfil its evangelising mission and service. First and foremost, in what concerns the priests, this document will become their blueprint, and will be discussed in depth in the 2021 Study Camp to enable them to plan the pastoral direction of the Diocese for the coming three years. Concurrently, I also invite all Diocesan Bureaux and members of the parish councils to seriously study this issue. I sincerely hope that with their concerted effort, they will be able to identify a new model to justify the existence of the parish as well as embrace the spirit of co-responsibility.

Finally, may I take this opportunity to appeal to all the faithful, that even though you may not be able to take part in the liturgy and pastoral activities of the parish, particularly amid the Covid-19 pandemic, to make every effort to get the parish deeply rooted in your daily life through mutual care and concern for one another.

Let us prepare and equip ourselves to welcome our Lord Jesus Christ! May God bless you and all your loved ones, this coming Advent and always!

+ John Cardinal Tong
Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong
The Solemn Feast of Christ the King
22 November 2020