Easter Pastoral Letter 2021
Together we become witnesses to His resurrection. (Acts 1:22)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
May the Risen Lord give you peace and joy!
On the happy occasion of the year of St Joseph and the Year of Family, I am borrowing three phrases from the 2004 Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis To All Consecrated People as a framework for this message: “looking to the past with gratitude”, “living the present with passion” and “embracing the future with hope”.
First of all, about “looking to the past with gratitude,” God the Almighty, created from nothing all things and humankind in the universe. The Creator has given us “life” through our parents. After our First Parents sinned, the Merciful God did not abandon humankind. Instead, He sent His only Son Jesus incarnate, to redeem us through His death and resurrection and through baptism allowed us to break away from evil and receive “supernatural life”. The grace of Baptism is not limited to the moment of our baptism but flows over into every moment of our lives, inviting us to live out the interaction between God and humanity and receive the joy of the resurrection.
As I look back on the past, this Year of St Joseph has brought back childhood memories of my father, whose baptismal name was Joseph. It was in the 1940s that he worked for a business company in Guangzhou. Unfortunately he caught lung disease and had to stay home most days to recuperate. Because he was concerned for the health of others, every time he coughed, he would cover his mouth with a handkerchief, and used common chopsticks at meals when getting food in order not to infect others. When I told him that I would like to enter the minor seminary in Macau, he encouraged me to follow God’s call, and gave me his wrist-watch as a loving memory. After that, I never saw him again. Because of this watch, I was assigned to keep the time and chime the bell of the minor seminary in Macau. Even though my father only lived until he was forty-three years of age, he left me with an example of caring for others. I cherish the memory of a good father all my life.
Secondly, when speaking of “living the present with passion”, I like to recall Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want…I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” Every time when I pray this Psalm, the image of the late Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung, former bishop of Hong Kong, comes to my mind. He was my senior for whom I had great respect. He was appointed to Hong Kong in 1975, and passed away in 2002 at the age of 77. He gave me the impression of being a little like St Joseph – quiet and a man of few words. He was invited by the Chinese authorities to visit the mainland three times, and once to Taiwan by the Taiwan Regional Bishops’ Conference in 1988. All of these trips were to carry out the mission of the Bridge Church in which I was privileged to take part. Recalling his conversations with the government and church officials in the mainland and Taiwan, I feel he carried himself in a orderly manner, very wise and composed. This remains memorable all my life.
During his episcopacy, Cardinal Wu faced one significant event: the reversion of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to Chinese rule in 1997. Many Catholics who were fearful asked him: “Should we immigrate to another country?” Cardinal Wu always replied from a faith perspective: “We should have trust in God. We in this diocese will function the same way as we always have done.” Consequently, the number of new baptisms increased a great deal, reaching 7,000 per year, including adults, adolescents and infant baptisms. Cardinal Wu was truly a good shepherd of our Diocese.
Thirdly, regarding “embracing hope for the future,” the Gospel of John (20: 19-23) tells us that on the evening when the disciples gathered at a place where the doors were tightly shut for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and greeted them with peace, saying, “Just as the Father sent me, I am sending you.” He then breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven.” Relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to bring the light of faith in Christ to all those in society through our words and deeds, and they can share in the peace and joy of the resurrection.
Speaking of being sent, the memory of Father Thomas Malone came to my mind. He was my most respected Maryknoll priest, whom I had known in Guangzhou. People knew him as gentle, warm-hearted and concerned for others, especially the poor and the disadvantaged. When I was studying in the Macau minor seminary, Father Malone visited me many times. When I was in my third year of theology, Archbishop Dominic Tang Yee-ming of Guangzhou hoped to send some seminarians to study abroad. Father Malone supported me spiritually and financially to do further studies at the Pontifical University in Rome. Being the Rector and spiritual director at the Maryknoll Seminary in the United States, Father Malone had trained many missionaries under his guidance. After his retirement, he continued his missionary work in Taiwan. until he passed away at the age of 77. Like St Joseph, he cared for others and carried out good works with a low profile. His motto was “Where charity and love are, there is God” (Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est). He was really a missionary par excellence.
The ancient Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but is the mother of all virtues.” I thank God for the gifts of my beloved father, our Good Pastor Cardinal Wu and my respected benefactor Father Thomas Malone, MM. They continue to lead us to “become witnesses to His resurrection.” (Acts 1:22)
Finally, let us thank God for guiding and supporting our Diocese in the past years. May we entrust our prayers to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the patron saint of our Diocese, to lead the Diocese in unity and communion, to uphold excellence in tradition, to keep pace with the times, to strive for evangelization, to promote exchanges with different sectors in the society, and to develop the function of being a Bridge Church with other Churches.
May God bless and protect you! Alleluia!
+ John Cardinal Tong
Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong
19 March 2021 Feast of St Joseph